"The High Cost of Loving" is yet another worthy film that has been plucked from obscurity by the Warner Archive. The 1958 comedy offered a rare starring role to Jose Ferrer as well as an opportunity for him to direct a feature film. Ferrer plays Jim Fry, a 15 year veteran of working diligently in the purchasing department for a mid-size company. He is frustrated with the corporate red tape that inhibits productivity but is overall happy in his work as well as with his home life. Why not? He's in his late 40's and his wife Ginny (Gena Rowlands in her big screen debut) is a ravishing blonde beauty twenty years younger than him (though the poster for the film simply ignores this and refers to them as the "young couple".) The film opens on an amusing note that will be familiar to many working couples. We see Jim and Ginny go through their morning workday rituals in an almost robotic fashion, barely saying a word to each other as they each perform their unspoken duties. He gets breakfast ready, she serves him orange juice in the shower. They both sit silently at the table, each taking a quick read of sections from the newspaper. They both climb into their vehicles and pull out of the garage in tandem before, each en route to their jobs. Ginny, against the fashion of the day, has her own career working at a small company. Jim still considers himself a rising star in his own company, a conceit that is reinforced by the news that his employer is being taken over by a much larger corporation. Warned that this often results in layoffs, Jim feels he is immune. He also isn't sympathetic to those who might lose their jobs, attributing it to social Darwinism and "the law of the jungle".
Jim's smug attitude goes into a nosedive when he discovers that virtually all of his fellow executives have been summoned to a forthcoming luncheon as a get-acquainted meeting with the new brass. The problem is that he didn't receive the invitation. Assuming it must have been a mistake, he pretends he did receive it and joins in all the backslapping among his colleagues who view this as a way to make a good impression on the new bosses and rise the corporate ladder. As the days pass, it becomes apparent an invitation isn't in the cards for him. His concern turns to paranoia as he tries to analyze why all his years of devoted service have resulted in him being bypassed. He becomes obsessed to the point that he barely acknowledges Ginny's news that she is pregnant, something that both have been hoping for quite some time. (Although the film hints at sexual activity, the prudish norms of the time in the film industry relegates both husband and wife to separate beds.) To bolster his spirits, Jim's best friend from the office, Steve Heyward (Bobby Troupe) arranges for he and his wife Syd (Joanne Gilbert) to go to dinner with Jim and Ginny. However, the evening is ruined by Syd's incessant chatter about the importance of the corporate luncheon, which she doesn't realize Jim has not been invited to. The script plays out predictably with Jim interpreting every action (or inaction) of his new bosses as a sign that he is about to be fired. He looks up an old business contact in hopes of getting a new job but not only are there none open, but he is warned that in terms of his age, he might be considered "over the hill" in the corporate world. Now enraged, Jim plans to have a showdown with the brass and tell him what he thinks of them, unaware that his snub from the luncheon was due to a bureaucratic mistake that they intend to rectify.
"The High Cost of Loving" is a modest production shot in B&W on a fairly low budget (most of the scenes are studio interiors). However, the movie signifies that paranoia about one's place in their jobs is not a new phenomenon and that discrimination based on age in the corporate world is also a long-standing concern. There is also plenty of sexism that never gets addressed. When she announces she is pregnant, Jim orders Ginny to quit her job ASAP. The corporate world is made up entirely of men in management positions and bosses refer to keeping an eye out for good "men" they can promote. All of the women in the office are clearly in secretarial positions. Ferrer gives a wonderful performance (did he ever not?) and has a deft hand at the comedic elements of the script. He never allows the characters to depend on slapstick or one-liners to get a quick laugh. They all talk the way real people would in the circumstances. There is also a great deal of pathos involved as Jim comes to a life lesson that no one should define the worth of their character on the basis of a specific job. The film boasts a wonderful supporting cast with Rowlands displaying the star qualities that would serve her well in the years to come. There are also some fun appearances by TV sitcom stars of the future including Jim Backus ("Gilligan's Island"), Werner Klemperer ("Hogan's Heroes"), Edward Platt ("Get Smart") and uncredited appearances by Nancy Kulp ("The Beverly Hillbillies") and Richard Deacon ("The Dick Van Dyke Show" and the only character in the film allowed to go a bit over the top.)
The film is not only delightful but unexpectedly poignant. The DVD includes the original trailer.
Made months before the U.S.’s entrance into World War
II, “All Through the Night” (1941) stars Humphrey Bogart as “Gloves” Donahue, a
New York Irish gangster battling Nazi fifth columnists. “Gloves” runs a bookie
operation and he’s got the world by the tail until he gets a frantic call from
his mother (Jane Darwell) who is upset because Herman Miller, the baker who
makes “Gloves’ ” favorite cheesecake is suddenly missing. “Gloves”- with his
gang which includes William Demarest, Jackie Gleason, Frank McHugh, and Phil
Silvers- rush over to the bakery and find the baker stuffed in one of the
pastry bins in the basement. A mysterious blonde (Kaaren Verne) shows up and
disappears when the cops arrive.
Gloves and his pals can’t understand why anyone would
want to harm poor old Mr. Miller, but Gloves’ mother tells him that the blonde
who disappeared must know something, and she tells him to find her. Gloves
doesn’t have a clue where to look and is not inclined to pursue the matter
further. But Mom is last seen asking a peanut vender outside the bakery if he
noticed the girl. “Gloves” and his boys
go to his expensive apartment to relax, and no sooner does he light up his
cigar than he gets an angry phone call from Marty Callahan (Barton MacClain),
another Irish mug who owns a nightclub. He’s irate because “Gloves’“ mother is
there raising a ruckus.
“Gloves” and his boys run down to the club and his
mother insists that the girl who was in the bakery works at the club. How she
knows this is never explained. But I guess the peanut vendor must have known. We’ll
never know since his dialogue ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s an annoying gap in the continuity but it really doesn’t matter. The corkscrew script by
Leonard Spigelgass and Edwin Gilbtert is intended to keep the audience guessing
with one surprising reversal after another. What’s more little plot hole more
Meanwhile, the mysterious blonde is there on the stage
singing the “All Through the Night” theme song written by Johnny Mercer. “Gloves”
recognizes her, likes what he sees and tells his mom to go home. He investigates
and in the process of trying get to the girl, “Gloves” finds nightclub manager
Joe Denning (Edward Brophy) shot. Denning holds up the five fingers of his hand
as if trying to tell “Gloves” something. Witnesses see “Gloves” kneeling over the
body so naturally he has to scram. On his way out he sees a cab carrying the
girl and some shadowy figures rushing out of an alley. Through pals he knows at
the cab company, “Gloves” finds the address the cab went to and continues his
And that’s just the beginning. It turns out Denning holding up five fingers
was a warning that there was a fifth column movement of Nazis right there in
New York. The mysterious blonde is part of the movement (or is she?), which is
being run by Conrad Veidt and his pal Peter Lorre. They are planning to blow up
a battle ship in New York Harbor. To think, it all started because “Gloves”
couldn’t get his favorite cheesecake!
Movie studios had been under pressure for years by
isolationists in Congress to refrain from making films that would incite the
country to war. But with the growing threat of Nazism, the rumors of horrors
occurring in Germany, and the known presence of Nazis in cities all over the
U.S., by 1941 the atmosphere had changed. “All Through the Night,” according to
director Vincent Sherman who shares an interesting alternate audio commentary track
on the DVD with film historian Eric Lax, was an attempt by Warners to make an
anti-Nazi comedy. Sherman admits that reaction to it was mixed. I suppose audiences
weren’t sure what to make of a movie that plays like Damon Runyon meets “Watch
on the Rhine.”
The idea for the story is based on some fact. There
were Nazis in Brooklyn and other parts of New York in the late 1930s and the
only ones concerned about them were the local gangsters and newspaper men. The
general public and the police couldn’t have cared less. So the ending of “All
Through the Night,” with rival gangs of Irish gangsters uniting and battling
German saboteurs is not as far-fetched as it might seem.
“All Through the Night” is a chance to see a big cast
of Warners’ regulars at or near their peak in a lively film that more than puts
them through their paces. It’s not Bogart’s greatest film, but it continue to
help elevate him up from the B-movie gangster films and westerns he’d once been
relegated to. It would be only a short time later that he would once again be
battling Nazis Veidt and Lorre in “Casablanca.” By then the isolationists were
silent and the country was already at war.
“All Through the Night” presents a good many extras to
enjoy on the DVD release. The audio commentary by Sherman and Lax is highly
informative. Lax presents the historical facts and Sherman tells what it was
like to work under the Warners studio system. The place was loaded with sets
made for earlier movies. All he had to do was walk around and pick what he
needed to make a movie. In those days film makers rarely left the back lot. In
addition to the commentary, there is a cartoon, newsreel a trailer for
“Gentleman Jim” and a comedy short subject about quitting smoking. There’s a lot
to see and hear on this disc. It will definitely keep you watching “All Through
the Night,” and maybe the next night, too.
Monsters come in various forms. Those found in fictional literature or film can be chilling enough but, inevitably, it is the real life monsters that strike the most fear in our hearts. People routinely joke about the fact that whenever a heinous crime is committed, those who knew the perpetrator seem to mouth the same cliches such as "He was a quiet man" or "He was a good family man". Yet there is a disturbing truth to this generalization. Some of the worst people in history have been rather nondescript types who would never stand out in a crowd. Such a man who was destined for infamy was Heinrich Himmler, whose homely personal appearance bordered on the comic. He has been described as someone who looked like a character from a Marx Brothers movie. Yet there was nothing the slightest bit amusing about Himmler, as the new documentary The Decent One makes painfully clear. Directed by Vanessa Lapa, the movie has just been brought to DVD by Kino Lorber. Himmler's life and crimes have proven to be well-worn territory for any number of previous documentaries but The Decent One is unique in that it tells his story entirely from his own perspective, along with that of his wife Marga. This was made possible by the discovery of an archive of personal letters between the couple that were looted from Himmler's home by American soldiers who occupied the place at the end of the war. Somehow the stash of letters and diaries ended up in a historic archive in Tel Aviv where Lapa and her researchers were allowed access to them. They revealed a treasure trove of photos and correspondence that provide fascinating insights into the lives of one of the Third Reich's most notorious war criminals. Virtually the entire film is told through narration of the letters between Himmler and Marga, although the film does begin with an all-too brief vintage interview with Marga that appears to be a debriefing by Allied intelligence officers at the end of the war. There are some other comments made from letters written by the Himmlers' daughter Gudrun, who grew up during the war years.
The film begins with comments from young Himmler's diary. As a teenager, he was among the many disaffected Germans who resented their nation's capitulation to the Treaty of Versailles in the wake of Germanys that saw Germany's defeat in WWI. The terms of the treaty were so severe that they caused widespread economic decline in Germany, which was made a scapegoat by bearing the entire responsibility for a war that was so complicated and unnecessary that scholars are still debating its causes today. From these early days, Himmler viewed himself as an outsider. "People don't seem to like me", he writes more than once in his diary. A key inspiration in his life was reading Adolf Hitler's manifesto, Mein Kampf, which called for a revolution in Germany against the flawed but democratic Weimar Republic. Himmler was an early member of Hitler's National Socialist Party, which espoused a far-right political philosophy that was nativist in tone and intolerant in practice. Himmler had always harbored anti-Semitic prejudices and Hitler's ranting political speeches only galvanized others with similar feelings. Around this time Himmler fell in love with Marga, a woman eight years his senior. The two married in 1924 just as Himmler's stock was rising in the Nazi party. Before long, he would be given increasing responsibilities and would emerge as one of Hitler's most trusted and reliable confidants. The film humanizes Himmler through the correspondence with Marga, from their dating period through their marriage. The couple engages in some overtly sexual banter that seems to imply that to some degree an S&M element may have been present in this aspect of their relationship. (They both bizarrely refer to lovemaking as "revenge" on each other and imply that Himmler has been naughty and should be punished.) Following the birth of the couple's daughter Gudrun, Himmler was distressed to learn that Marga could not bear him any other children. As a key element of Nazi philosophy was that couples should have as many children as possible, the Himmler's adopt a young son, Gehbard. The correspondence makes clear that the couple had little enthusiasm for the lad and were frustrated by what they believe is his errant behavior. At one point, Himmler advises Marga to refrain from signing her letters to Gehbard, who was in boarding school, as "Mother". The film follows the Nazi party's rise to political power. Although Hitler is only seen occasionally in photos and newsreel clips, his presence dominates much of the Himmler's personal life. Himmler is there for "the boss", as he refers to him, day and night and his absence from home ultimately leaves Marga frustrated, though Himmler is dutiful in writing letters and sending presents.
The turning point comes with Hitler's disastrous decision to betray his ally Stalin and launch the massive invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, a strategy that achieves remarkable success initially but which would lead to disastrous consequences in the long run. It represents the first time that Marga addresses the fact that Germany may be in real peril, despite her husband's increasingly meaningless platitudes that Hitler can never be defeated. The Allied invasion of Normandy three years later wreaks havoc on the nation. In correspondence written by the astute Gudrun, the child is distressed that Germany is now without any allies and is on its own. Throughout the entire war, Himmler is only a fleeting presence at home but Gudrun clearly adores him even as Gebhard is never fully accepted as his son. In his duties as right hand man to Hitler, Himmler thrives on his new responsibilities to deal with indigenous populations in conquered countries. He starts off by rounding up suspected homosexuals and incarcerating them in concentration camps with orders to ensure that all are shot while "trying to escape". He organizes death squads to exterminate entire villages in conquered Soviet territory. The most ambitious plan, however, is the "Final Solution" to "the Jewish problem". Himmler enthusiastically oversees the implementation of widespread genocide on a scale that is still hard to fathom. During this time, he continues to extol the virtues of the average Nazi, who he maintains has remained "decent" despite the unsavory tasks they must perform in order to keep the Germanic population free of "human animals". Indeed, Himmler seems to never stop bragging about his regard for ethical behavior despite all evidence to the contrary. He insists that members of the Master Race remain pure in every way- even as he engages in a extra-marital affair that sees him impregnate his mistress. He condones confiscating all the property and wealth of doomed Jews but warns that no German can ever personally benefit from this booty- even as he sends some of it home as gifts to his family.
"The Decent One" is an intriguing experience precisely because it reiterates what we already know: some of the most demonic people on the planet can hide behind the guise of being rational, compassionate individuals. Since the film is restricted to telling Himmler's story only through his own words, it does not serve (or attempt to serve) as a chronological diary of the German experience in WWII. Some key events are only glossed over in the interest of time while others are ignored altogether. (It would be interesting to know what Himmler thought of the July 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler by his own generals.) The film ends with a scene of Himmler dead on the floor with a British sentry standing over him. Placards at the end of the movie inform the viewer that he had been captured two days previously but had escaped trial by taking a cyanide capsule. We are also advised that his wife Marga died in 1967. His son remained haunted by his fractured relationship with his father and died only a few years ago. His daughter is still alive and donates to an organization that defends convicted Nazi war criminals. Apparently time and history has taught her nothing.
The film and its director have been criticized in some quarters for utilizing the device of having the entire story told through the words of the subjects themselves. The knock against Lapa is that this fails to provide context to the events that are unfolding on screen. I feel these critics miss the point. The most intriguing aspect of the movie is precisely that there are no distractions between the words of Himmler and his family members. It offers the kind of perspective that a standard format would deny the viewer. The Kino Lorber release features some interesting extras. They include an introduction by esteemed documentary maker Errol Morris, who also discusses the film in a Q&A session at Brandeis University. There are also some compelling featurettes that show researchers looking through the files containing Himmler's correspondence and photos. There are visits to relatives of Himmler, who are not in sympathy with him in any way and who discuss the negative connotations that the surname still evokes today. An original trailer is also included.
"The Decent One" should be seen by everyone who believes the old adage that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.
Orson Welles died in 1985, he was known to the younger generation for his
adverts, his chat show appearances and for voicing a giant robot in Transformers:
The Movie. His early successes more than forty years earlier were often
over-looked, the larger-than-life raconteur having allowed his legend and
personality to become bigger than his numerous cinematic achievements.
Magician serves as a much-needed reminder of just how talented Orson
Welles was. A true polymath, it did not seem to matter what Welles turned his
hand to, he would be better at it than you. He was an established artist,
actor, theatre actor and director all before reaching twenty years old. Before
creating what is still generally accepted as the greatest film ever made, Citizen
Kane (1941), he was a popular radio presence, both as the voice of The
Shadow and through his own Mercury Theatre productions. It was with the
latter that he produced what is still considered one of the most controversial
radio dramas of all time: his contemporary adaptation of The War of the
Worlds in 1938, which terrified audiences by forcing them to realise that
they could not always trust what they were listening to on the wireless. Anyone
who had achieved such amazing success at an age where most of us still don't
know what we want to do with our lives could be forgiven for relaxing somewhat
after that. But not Welles. He spent his entire working life going from one
creative project to another, whether it was film, theatre or television.
Frustrated by the lack of control afforded to him by the studio system, and in
particular by the disappointing way The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) was
treated, he became in effect an independent film director, raising money
wherever he could to fund projects which were often left unfinished. Yet it was
during this time that some of his greatest films were made, in particular The
Trial (1962) and Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight (1965). He funded
these films by putting in memorable appearances in other director’s work, such
as his Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949), a role which he later
recreated for a successful radio series.
the complicated nature of the funding means that some of Welles films are still
in legal dispute, and a high quality copy of Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight is
still not commercially available. Clips from this and many examples of his
other work are included here which reminds us just how visually impressive his
films were. The documentary includes interviews with friends, family and
colleagues, both newly shot and archival. Most importantly Welles is given the
opportunity to speak for himself, with clips taken from various points
throughout his career. Time and time again he was frustrated yet he always
seems philosophical as he considers his failures as well as his achievements.
documentary was given a brief theatrical run before being released on DVD by
the BFI. Extra features include an extended interview with the actor Simon
Callow, who has written three volumes of biography on Orson Welles, whose
research has helped to sift through many of the legends to get to the truth of
the man. Magician is as thorough and engaging a documentary as one would
hope for, and ought to lead to a resurgence of interest in Welles' work. It may
perhaps help to finally resolve the legal limbo in which many of his films
Like most Anglo-European co-productions, the 1968 caper film They Came to Rob Las Vegas deserves plaudits for not using any subtlety in its title. You know instantly what it's about as the protagonists, well, they come to rob Las Vegas. The ring leader is Tony Ferris (Gary Lockwood), a casino craps dealer who uses his inside observations to organize an outrageous plot. The casino's daily monetary takes are hauled off to banks courtesy of seemingly impregnable armored cars owned by Skorsky (Lee J. Cobb), an obnoxious tycoon with mob connections who prides himself on the fact that his armored cars are unique in their design. Each one is a virtually Sherman tank with devices that automatically lock if any attempt to open the doors is detected. Inside the car are heavily armed guards who can live for an extended period of time (there's even a bathroom inside!). Additionally, the drivers can activate armor mechanism and machine guns from within the cab. Still, petty crook Ferris believes he has the perfect plan to knock off one of these trucks and capture the millions inside. He organizes a gang of crooks, each of whom has their own specialized talent, to literally kidnap the truck and secrete it in an underground hideaway in the desert. It goes without saying that there are some flies in the ointment and things don't go as smoothly as planned.
The 1969 comedy The Maltese Bippy has been released on DVD by the Warner Archive. What is a bippy? If you're of a certain age and grew up in the 1960s, you need not ask. A bippy was an undefined thing that nevertheless, it was insinuated, had a rather naughty or distasteful element to it. The phrase was coined by comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin on their hit TV series Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. The show is rarely discussed today but there is no underestimating its impact on American popular culture when it premiered in January of 1968, replacing The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which had been canceled after three and a half seasons. The premise of the show capitalized on the youth movement and sexual revolution that characterized the era. There was no structure to the show, which largely consisted of rapid fire one-liners and short comedy sketches that often pushed the limits of network censorship. Rowan and Martin had been a popular comedy team that had nonetheless not reached the top rungs of their profession. That would change with the premiere of the show. Their shtick was not unlike those of other comedy duos: Dan Rowan was the sophisticated straight man and Dick Martin was the naive, goofy partner who got most of the laughs. The two men were improbable hosts for what became TV's hippest "must see" comedy show. Not only were they middle-aged, but they adhered to the then popular tradition of hosting their show while clad in tuxedos. Nevertheless, Rowan and Martin introduced envelope-pushing humor that became a sensation. The Smother Brothers had tried the same thing on CBS and got canceled for their efforts largely because they were so sarcastic about LBS's Vietnam War policies. But Rowan and Martin skewered all of the politicians and even included some of them on the show as part of its tradition of showcasing unlikely people spouting one-liners. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels may have had a hit record titled "Sock It To Me, Baby", but it was Laugh-in that immortalized the phrase. In fact, it played a role in the 1968 presidential election. Richard Nixon, back from the political graveyard, was the Republican nominee for president, squaring off against the Democratic nominee Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The Democratic convention in Chicago had been a disaster, marred by riots and police brutality. Nixon had based his campaign on a calm, law-and-order message that resonated with middle class, white voters. However, he was notoriously lacking in humor or personalty. When his advisers convinced him to make a five second cameo on Laugh-In in which he phrased "Sock it to me" as a question, voters saw a side of Nixon they didn't know existed. Whether he ever knew the relevance of the show or not, his poll numbers started to rise and he eeked out a narrow victory over the surging Humphrey in the November elections. Other phrases popularized on the show included "Here comes da judge!", "Veerrry interesting" and "You bet your sweet bippy", which was routinely used as a retort to almost any question posed to Dick Martin. The show's impact over its five year run included making household names of then unknown actresses Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin. Seemingly all the major stars wanted to film cameos for the show. These included such eclectic talents as Johnny Carson, Jack Benny, Henny Youngman and John Wayne. The show also made a short-term superstar of eccentric crooner Tiny Tim.
In 1969, MGM signed Rowan and Martin to a feature film, The Maltese Bippy. This was not their first time on the big screen. In 1958 they appeared in a forgettable comedy, Once Upon a Horse. The Bippy movie did not replicate their success on television and vanished rather quickly, though it has developed a cult following over the decades. The Maltese Bippy begins amusingly enough with footage from a sword and sandal movie that then morphs into Rowan and Martin doing their standard stand-up routine! You have to give the writers credit for at least thinking outside the box. The film proper begins with partners Sam Smith (Rowan) and Ernest Gray (Martin) trying to eek out a living by convincing a busty, 18 year old airhead to appear in a sexlpoitation film with Ernest as the leading man. The amusing sequence finds them filming this "epic" in the confines of a small office with incredibly shoddy pull down paintings serving as scenery. The office is raided and they are evicted for non-payment of rent. Back at Ernest's Victorian era house, his only remaining financial asset, the pair snipe at each other as they try to come up with some other method of making a living. From this point, the story goes into very bizarre directions. It would be pointless to try to connect all the disparate plot angles. Suffice it to say that over the course of the remaining running time, we are introduced to a series of eccentric supporting characters. These include Robin (Carol Lynley), a young college girl who is boarding at the house. Ernest has the hots for her but her innocent nature may be a ruse and she appears to have an ulterior motive for her presence in the house. This could be rumors that the place holds an ancient treasure that is the motivation for less scrupulous characters to pay visits to Sam and Ernest. These include Mischa Ravenswood (Fritz Weaver), a menacing Romanian nobleman who is always in the company of his mentally deranged sister Carlotta (Julie Newmar). They seem to be after the treasure that the household is said to contain. Added to the mix is another wacky boarder, Axel (Leon Askin of Hogan's Heroes). Then there is Ernest's long-suffering housekeeper Molly (Mildred Natwick) who may not be what she seems. An unrelated subplot has the victim of a vicious murder discovered near Ernest's house. It appears the dead man may have been killed by an unknown animal and this results in extended sequences and gags in which Ernest begins to believe that he is actually a werewolf!
The film lumbers along under the direction of veteran Norman Panama but every now and then a genuinely funny gag comes along that makes you laugh in spite of yourself. The film's greatest asset is the spirited performances and the film provides a treasure trove of goofy characters for well-established actors to have fun with. (It's great to see Fritz Weaver in a rare comedy role.) Ironically, the movie mostly comes alive in the final act in which virtually the entire cast kills themselves off. It's a bizarre but funny premise and is well-executed. Despite its flaws, The Maltese Bippy is an enjoyable romp.
The failure of The Maltese Bippy at the boxoffice ensured that Rowan and Martin never appeared on the big screen again. Dick Martin, who had already established himself as a successful supporting actor and comedy director, had a thriving career until his death in 2008. Dan Rowan retired in the early 1980s partly due to health problems. He passed away in 1987 at age 65. Is it safe to say that Rowan and Martin's legacy as major influences on American comedy in the 1960s is secure? You bet your sweet bippy.
jihadist-occupied Timbuktu, a militiaman climbs off the back of a motorcycle
and, in a daily ritual, uses a megaphone to remind the population about the
mandates of the occupiers’ harsh Sharia law: “Important information! Smoking is forbidden. Music is forbidden. Women must wear socks!” Initially, these scenes in director
Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu” (2014) recall the scenes of the PA system
announcing the day’s recreational activities at the 4077th’s field hospital in
Robert Altman’s “MASH” (1970). The
harsh, amplified sound of the delivery system gives the message a heft of
authority. In contrast, the message
itself is absurd, like the logic-twisting quips that one of Groucho Marx’s old
characters would spout. In Altman’s
film, the inane whine of the PA system provided ironic relief from the intense scenes in the
surgical tent. In Sissako’s, the viewer
initially laughs at the nonsensicality of the words, but as the film
illustrates, the jihadist tyranny is nothing to snicker at. Caught singing, a young woman is publicly
punished with 40 lashes. For adultery, a
man and a woman are stoned to death in a particularly horrific way. They are buried in a sand pit up to their
necks, unable to move, and then bystanders batter their unprotected heads with
invasion depicted by Sissako actually occurred in recent history. Jihadists mobilized by al-Queda and its affiliates seized control of Timbuktu in
2012 and remained in power for a year before Malian and French troops drove
them out. In some ways it was a
forerunner of the present aggression by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Like the footage we now see every day from
that front on the web and cable news, Sissako dramatizes the heavy hand of
Timbuktu’s oppressors with shots of his gun-wielding militiamen cruising the
ancient streets in open vehicles, black banners flying. A compassionate imam (Adel
challenges the invaders’ dictates. In
one instance, his resistance is successful as an armed patrol barges into his
mosque during prayer, and he orders them to leave. In another, trying to reverse the forcible
marriage of a teenaged girl to a young militiaman, he fails. “It was a legal marriage based on Islamic
law,” the jihadist administrator (Salem Dendou) rules. But there was no guardian at the ceremony to
look after the girl’s interests, the imam contends. “We are the guardians of all deeds since we
arrived in this territory,” the administrator sternly counters.
oppression of Sharia law, or its interpretation by the extremists, is
reinforced by the fact that interpreters are needed for communication between
the Arab-speaking invaders and the natives of Timbuktu, who speak mostly French
and Bambara. The crushing weight of
fundamentalist rule also falls heavily on Kidane (Ibrahim
Ahmed dit Pino), a herdsman who has attempted to live apart from the invaders
with his wife, daughter, and tenant in an idyllic desert refuge. Kidane’s story forms the core of the film and
builds to a tragic conclusion, which in Western eyes is likely to be all the
more troubling because of Kidane’s fatalistic acceptance of events (“it is
willed”). In an American production,
Dwayne Johnson would have saved the day, or Jamie Foxx as Kidane would have
shot his own way out.
A nominee for the 2015 Academy Award in the Best Foreign Movie
category and for the
Palme d’Or as Best Picture at Cannes, “Timbuktu” looks gorgeous
in the new, hi-def Blu-ray edition released by the Cohen Media Group. Detail is sharp, and the colors of the exotic
tribal clothing worn by Kidane’s wife (Toulou Kiki) and other characters are so
vivid they seem to jump out of the TV screen. Some critics thought the movie was too pretty. However, arguably, Sissako is telling his
story through the eyes of his indigenous characters, and this is the world as
they see it. The Blu-ray disc includes
English subtitles for the multi-lingual dialogue track, and there are two extras:
a theatrical trailer and a thoughtful interview with Sissako at a public
screening of “Timbuktu.”
There’s a scene in John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot
Liberty Valance” (1962) when a newspaper man says “This is the west, sir and
when legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Screenwriter Ben Hecht and
director Jack Conway seemed to have followed that sentiment in their biopic,
“Viva Villa!” (1934) which presents a highly fictionalized version of the life of Mexican
revolutionary Pancho Villa. Though not historically accurate, it’s an
entertaining and worthwhile film, and in its own way presents the truth about what
it means to be oppressed and to finally decide you’ve had a belly full and rise
up against it.
The opening scenes show the peones being told by Porfiro Diaz’s soldiers that their land is
being taken away from them. When they protest, the leader of the protesters is
given 100 lashes. His young son watches as the last lash is delivered and it’s
discovered the man is dead. “It must have been too much,” an officer says
derisively. The boy follows the man who wielded the whip into an alley and
stabs him to death. The boy is Pancho Villa.
Grown to manhood, the adult Villa (Wallace Beery) has
become a bandit, partners with another ruthless hombre, Sierra (Leo Carillo).
Beery plays Villa as a larger than life character of gargantuan appetites. He
drinks, eats, and kills as the impulse strikes him. Every beautiful woman he
sees he must have, and he marries each of them. As his reputation grows, a
contemplative little man named Francisco Madera starts a revolution and his friends,
wealthy landowner Don Felipe (Donald Cook) and his sister Teresa (Fay Wray), enlists
Villa in the cause. Villa recruits hundreds of villagers to fight and they free
city after city from the cruel dictator’s grasp. His exploits are recorded by an
American newspaper man, Johnny Sykes (Stuart Irwin), who helps create Villa’s
Things start to go wrong when Madera, a dreamy
idealist, thinks Villa’s tactics are too brutal, and puts him under the command
of General Pascal (Joseph Schildkraut). Pascal is an opportunist who uses both
Villa and Madera, until the day he can seize power for himself. Despite all
that Villa did for him, Madera excludes Villa from the government he forms in
Mexico City after Diaz resigns. Villa and Sierra return home to the hills of
Chihuahua, where they take up bank robbing again. For his crimes Madera has him
thrown in jail, and Pascal arranges for him to be executed. Madera stops the
execution but not before Pascal humiliates him by making him crawl in the dirt.
There’s a lot more to this big, sprawling story, and
Hecht’s script is tight, full of visual metaphors, most of which revolve around
the land that everyone’s fighting for, down to the last handful of dirt
clutched in a dying man’s hand.
Stories abound regarding the filming of “Viva Villa!”
For example, the movie began with Howard Hawks directing and Lee Tracy playing
reporter Johnny Sykes. But Tracy had a drinking problem and apparently urinated
off his hotel room balcony, while screaming insults at a group of military
cadets. Tracy was hustled out of the country and Hawks was called back to
Hollywood by producer David. O. Selznick. The two of them got in a fight over
Tracy. Hawks wanted to keep him in the picture and he socked Selznick in the
nose and himself out of the picture. He was replaced by Conway. All previous
scenes were reshot.
Despite this setback, the reassembled cast and crew
managed to turn in solid performances in all the key roles. It’s arguably
Beery’s best film, and Schildkraut turns in a world class performance as a
vicious snake. Conway’s direction is solid and straightforward. The black and
white cinematography by James Wong Howe is first rate, highlighted as usual by
his use of sharp contrast in the bright daylight scenes shot in the Mexican
There are other films about the Mexican revolution,
including Elia Kazan’s “Viva Zapata,” (1952) which is more historically
accurate, and “Villa Rides” (1968) an adventure film played almost for laughs
with Yul Brynner as Villa and Robert Mitchum (script by Robert Towne and Sam
Peckinpah). But “Viva Villa!” has a timeless quality to it that holds up well
today and manages to show its influence on the films that followed. The Warner Archive has done a first rate job
of transferring the film to DVD. The original theatrical trailer also appears
on the disc. Recommended.
(John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
The 1963 romantic comedy Come Fly With Me has been released by the Warner Archive. The film is a breezy, if dated, homage to an era when flying on a commercial airliner was actually deemed to be an exotic experience. The movie chronicles the love lives of three stewardesses (remember that quaint term?)- Donna Stewart (Dolores Hart) and Hilde Bergstrom (Lois Nettleton) are mature, self-determined young women and the newbie to their flight crew, Carol Brewster (Pamela Tiffin) is a bumbling but irresistible airhead. All of them have one common trait, keeping in the era in which the film was made: they are all drop dead gorgeous. This is one instance in which a profession has not been Hollywood-ized to make it appear glamorous. Back in the day stewardesses were considered to be highly desirable jobs, as they allowed young women the opportunity to not only earn a good living but also see the world during their down time. At the time, few women had opportunities to exert their talents as business executives, so working for an airline was one way out of a humdrum lifestyle. However, there were plenty of misogynist males who controlled the rules that deemed whether a young woman was worthy of being a stewardess. For one, they had to be unmarried. They had to be attractive and had to agree to Draconian terms that could see them fired if they gained too much weight. Adding insult to injury, they would sometimes even have to provide their measurements as part of the employment process. Fortunately, we live in a world today where such practices are not only unthinkable but also illegal. However, we also live in a world today in which travel has become an ordeal rather than a pleasure. Customers must endure skyrocketing prices, petty additional charges and the discomfort of being squeezed like cattle into the tiny confines of their seats. Thus, Come Fly With Me does provide a journey into the past, for both better and worse, when it comes to reliving the glory days of airline travel.
The plot finds our three heroines on an exotic flight that will take them first to Paris, then on to Austria. From the get-go we see how stewardesses were considered to be human prey by lecherous male customers who paw at them and make awkward attempts to get dates. In the film, the women are also targeted by flight crew members. Each of the women ends up meeting their own prospective lover. Naturally, each of them initially spawns the advances. Donna has a chance encounter with a charismatic but egotistical Austrian baron, Franz von Elzinger (Karl Boehm) whose attempts to woo her backfire. Hilde is courted by a older, polite customer, Walter Lucas (Karl Malden) while Carol meets cute with the First Officer of the flight, handsome Ray Winsley (Hugh O'Brian). It will not be giving away any spoilers to reveal that each of the women ends up agreeing to date their individual suitor. Donna is swept off her feet by the lavish favors bestowed on her by Franz. However, in a rather engrossing plot twist, it is revealed that he is actually using her as an unwitting "mule" to smuggle diamonds into Austria on her future visits. Hilde finds herself smitten by the earnest and gentlemanly Walter, but turns sour on the relationship when she learns he has been recently widowed and suspects he only likes her because she resembles his deceased wife. Carol finds a willing boyfriend in Ray but is alarmed to find out he has been having a long-term affair with a predatory married woman in Paris. Worse, the woman's husband has filed a formal complaint with the airline, which has punished him by refusing to promote him to captain.
The film was designed primarily as a chick flick in an era that began a few years earlier with Three Coins in the Fountain, which depicted for the first time the notion that young women should travel the world together on exotic vacations. This was followed by Where the Boys Are, a movie that had an even greater impact in encouraging single women to indulge themselves in travel and partying. (Coincidentally, it starred Dolores Hart). Come Fly With Me sends out mixed messages in terms of women's liberation. On the one hand, the three main female characters are headstrong and think nothing of making demands of their suitors that ensure they are treated with respect. (For all the romantic scenes in the film, it's implied that these ladies are distinctly virginal despite a few frank references to sex.) On the other hand, each of them seemingly only wants to find that special guy and settle down, presumably willing to sacrifice their careers in the process. In the movie's favor is the fact that it was actually filmed on location in Paris and Vienna, which adds a luster that many films of the era lacked. (The studio sequences were shot at MGM's now defunct UK-based studios.) Consequently, the movie has a rich, classy feel to it. The cast is also impressive with each of the stars delivering an amusing performance, even if Tiffin does overdo the lovable goofball routine. The location scenery in these gorgeous European locales still impresses and the movie benefits from the title song by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, which was a big hit for Frank Sinatra in 1957, though it's sung here over the credits by Frankie Avalon. The proceedings move along at a brisk pace thanks to the efficiency of Henry Levin's direction and the impressive cinematography by the legendary Oswald Morris. The screenplay was written by the esteemed William Roberts (The Magnificent Seven, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm). The film ultimately builds to a somewhat suspenseful conclusion via the diamond smuggling plot before it tapers off to a contrived finale in which each of the ladies resolves their romantic issues and finds fulfillment with their flawed, but still admirable beau.
I enjoyed Come Fly With Me despite its predictable story line, largely because of the charismatic cast and the presentation of a bygone era that is somewhat fascinating from a sociological perspective. The Warner Archive DVD transfer is hit-and-miss. At times the film looks gorgeous but at some points (especially in sequences using second unit footage) there is a yellowish hue. There are no extras.
(Trivia notes: This was Dolores Hart's final film. She was a hot property with the studios but decided to leave acting to become a nun. Today she is a respected abbess of a monastery and a documentary about her life was nominated for an Oscar in 2012. Actress Lois Maxwell appears in the movie in an inexplicably wordless role despite having many high profile film credits including two James Bond movies as Miss Moneypenny and the horror classic The Haunting, which was released the same year as Come Fly With Me. It would appear as though much of her footage may have ended up on the cutting room floor.)
Kino Lorber is releasing a five film collection of British film noir gems on August 25. See details below from press release.
BRITISH NOIR: Five Film Collection (The Assassin / The
Golden Salamander / The OctoberMan / They Met in the Dark / Snowbound) (DVD only)
Directors: Ralph Thomas, Ronald Neame, Roy Ward Baker,
Carl Lamac, David MacDonald
Cast: James Mason, John Mills, Trevor Howard, Herbert
Lom, Richard Todd, Anouk Aimee, Robert Newton
Film Noir/1943-1952/NR/470 minutes
Synopsis: While the film noir movement may seem like a distinctly
American phenomenon, British studios embarked on their own shadowy thrillers,
laced with postwar cynicism. This five-DVD collection assembles some of the lesser-known
Brit noir titles from the Rank Studios, featuring such major talents as actors
James Mason, Trevor Howard, and John Mills; and directors Ronald Neame and Roy
THEY MET IN THE DARK (1943): Discharged for treason, a former Navy Commander
(James Mason) sets out to expose the espionage ring that destroyed his career -
Directed by Carl Lamac.
THE OCTOBER MAN (1947): After a traumatic brain injury, a young engineer
(John Mills) tries to repair his life. But his recovery is thwarted when a
woman (Kay Walsh) is found strangled-and he becomes the prime suspect -
Directed by Roy Ward Baker.
SNOWBOUND (1948): A British Army vet (Dennis Price) exposes a plot by
ex-Nazis to reclaim a stash of gold bullion hidden at a ski resort. This
edition was derived from a master suffering from moderate deterioration and is
presented in a less-than-ideal condition - the stellar cast included Robert
Newton, Herbert Lom and Stanley Holloway - Directed by David MacDonald.
THE GOLDEN SALAMANDER (1950): A British archaeologist (Trevor Howard)
finds himself caught between a gang of North African gun-runners and the woman
he loves (Anouk Aimée) - the top-notch cast included Herbert Lom and
Wilfrid-Hyde White - Directed by Ronald Neame.
THE ASSASSIN (aka Venetian Bird) (1952): A private eye (Richard Todd)
arrives in Venice in search of a fugitive, but soon discovers that the city's
winding waterways hold dark secrets - Directed by Ralph Thomas.
One of Mel Brooks' least-discussed films, the 1991 comedy "Life Stinks", is also one of his most accomplished works. The film didn't click with Brooks's usual audience at the time, perhaps because the film is laced with social commentary. Brooks obviously ignored the old Hollywood advice to "Leave the messages to Western Union". Nonetheless, it's precisely because of this departure from his usual productions that gives "Life Stinks" a certain poignancy that isn't found in his earlier works. Granted, Brooks always included some sentiment in his films (even Zero Mostel's Max Byalystock in "The Producers" is con man with some admirable traits.) However, "Life Stinks" makes a plea for compassion toward society's most vulnerable people, even as it concentrates on the primary purpose of any Brooks film: to make the audience laugh.
The movie opens with a very amusing scene in which we are introduced to the central character, billionaire business magnate Goddard Bolt (Brooks) who calls a conference meeting with his team of corporate "yes" men and sniveling team of lawyers. Like Auric Goldfinger unveiling his plan to rob Fort Knox, Bolt uses a large scale model of the worst section of Los Angeles to announce his plans to buy up this property and turn it into a spectacular business compound that resembles a vacation resort. Naturally, it will bear his name and he is unconcerned about the fact that it will displace legions of homeless people who have erected a makeshift "city" on this property. As portrayed by Brooks, Bolt is an intentionally over-the-top egotist who never stops bragging about his accomplishments and who is clearly involved with in a passionate love affair -with himself. (If the film were made today, critics would immediately suspect that the character was based on Donald Trump.) Bolt's plans hit a snafu with the arrival of his arch business nemesis Vance Crasswell (Jeffrey Tambor) who announces that he has managed to already buy up the remaining half of the land that Bolt needs to carry out his dream. Neither man will budge in terms of selling his half of the land to the other so they decide to engage in a bizarre bet. The wager is that Bolt must forego his identity and all of his money and credit cards and attempt to survive as a homeless person within the confines of the geographic boundaries of the disputed land. If he can last 30 days living off his wits, he gets Crasswell's half of the land. If he fails, he cedes his half of the land to Crasswell. The movie chronicles the predictably rude awakening that Bolt gets from the first minute he enters the world of these hopeless souls. This is where the human side of the script kicks in. Bolt, a man who has commanded countless minions as the head of business empire, can't figure out how to even earn enough money to rent a $2.50 a night flop house hotel room. Nor can he come up with a plan for how to get a meal. Alone and destitute, he ultimately befriends some long time street people who pity him and take him under their wings. These include Sailor (Brooks' frequent co-star Howard Morris), a jovial but mentally unbalanced man who knows the ropes when it comes to surviving on the mean streets of L.A. Bolt also encounters Molly (Lesley Ann Warren), a former dancer who has hit on hard times. The fiery-tempered young woman has learned to get by the on streets by using physical violence to protect her "home", which is in reality a motley collection of discarded items gathered in a back alley.
The film is basically geared for humor and it delivers in spades. There are some laugh-out-loud sequences depicting Bolt and his friends contending with some local bullies. However, Brooks the director scores even more impressively with poignant sequences in which Bolt learns the value of the people around him. He may have billions in the bank but he finds that a free meal in a soup kitchen is worth his fortune. He begins to see the people around him in a different light. When Molly's "home" is destroyed by vandals, it becomes clear that to a homeless person this loss is as devastating as it would be for the average person to lose their house. The film points out how transient people who live in over-sized boxes can have their world demolished by a pounding rainstorm that washes away their shelter. Every day is a battle to survive on the street. Predictably, Bolt and Molly reawaken human elements in each other and a romance blossoms. In one lovely sequence, Bolt and Molly find shelter in a costume warehouse where he convinces her to dress up regally and dance with him. It's a charming scene, the likes of which no other contemporary movie would show for fear of it appearing to corny. The movie is enhanced by composer John Morris's wonderful score. By this point, Morris had composed the music for most of Brooks's films and his contributions are essential elements of each of them. The supporting cast is also terrific with Howard Morris scoring very well as the sympathetic street person who doesn't realize how desperate his plight is. Warren gives a knockout performance that hits all the right notes in terms of pathos and belly laughs. Jeffrey Tambor steals his every scene as a hilarious villain- and the scene in which he and Bolt square off using bulldozers in a monster-like battle is genuinely hilarious. Even famed character actor Billy Barty makes a brief appearance in a scene that is extremely amusing.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray features a commentary track by Brooks and screewriters Rudy De Luca and Steve Hoberman. The three also appear in a short 2003 documentary about the making of the film. De Luca is another frequent collaborator of Brooks, having not only written scripts for him but also played supporting roles in the films. In "Life Stinks" De Luca appears as a demented man who thinks he is J. Paul Getty. Brooks, who doesn't get overly political in the film itself, uses his interview to say he was inspired to make the movie by dramatic cuts to social services and clinics that had been made by the Reagan administration, to which he attributes the explosive growth of the homeless population in the years that followed. While Brooks and De Luca's hearts are clearly in the right place, they make a politically incorrect faux pas by referring to the homeless people as "bums", which, to a certain generation was regarded as almost a term of endearment, along with "hobo". Nevertheless, for viewers of a younger generation, the it probably sounds harsh. The Blu-ray release also includes the theatrical trailer.
"Life Stinks" can be criticized for being predictable and occasionally overly sentimental. It's Brooks' version of a Frank Capra tale. In fact, Capra himself was not immune to criticism about the sentimental nature of his films, with some critics deriding them as "Capra Corn". However, this film represents the kind of comedy studios don't make today in this era of gross-out jokes. It is a celebration of kindness and generosity over greed. It has well-defined characters and a terrific cast. This "Life" doesn't stink. In fact, it's very much worth living.
I initially saw "Cops and Robbers" on its theatrical release in 1973. Strangely, I retained no memories of the film whatsoever except a few bars of the catchy title theme song by Michel Legrand. I say "strangely" because, upon watching the film's Blu-ray debut through Kino Lorber Studio Classics, I found the movie to be terrifically entertaining. Perhaps it's because terrifically entertaining films were a dime a dozen back in the 1970s that this particular movie didn't resonate with me at the time. Nevertheless, watching it today, it has a great many pleasures, not the least of which is two leading actors who were not familiar faces at the time, thus allowing the viewer to not have any preconceptions about their mannerisms or previous roles. The film was shot in New York City during a long period of urban decay. Poverty and crime were rising and the infrastructure was crumbling as the city came perilously close to declaring bankruptcy. It's a far cry from today's New York but at the time one benefit of all this chaos was that it inspired filmmakers to take advantage of the somber landscape and use it as fodder for some memorable films. Michael Winner's "Death Wish" and Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" administered the cinematic coup de grace, painting a picture of Gotham as a foreboding urban jungle. This was always overstated, of course, as there was never a period in which New York was in danger of losing its reputation as the most exciting city on earth. However, the grime and grit certainly did much to tarnish its reputation for a good number of years.
Among the films that represented this era was the little-remembered "Cops and Robbers", which is an offbeat entry in the genre of "dirty cop" movies that became popular during the 1970s. The twist is that, unlike the exploits of larger-than-life cops such as Dirty Harry or Popeye Doyle, this film centers on the day-to-day frustrations of two every day patrolmen - Tom (Cliff Gorman) and Joe (Joseph Bologna)- trying to cope with the frustrations of risking their lives for a salary of $43 a day. We watch as they car pool from their cramped suburban housing units to Manhattan, a daily trek of seemingly endless traffic jams that they must endure in the sweltering heat. (Yes, kiddies, most of us working class clods didn't have air conditioning in our cars in the 1970s.) Their familiar grind includes wrestling with mentally unstable people, watching fellow officers getting shot and having an ungrateful populace take them for granted. With wives and kids to provide for, they are at the end of their ropes. One day, Joe casually confesses to Tom that he recently walked into a liquor store in full uniform and held the place up at gunpoint. He only got a couple of hundred dollars, but was amazed at how easy it was to get away with- largely because everyone assumed the culprit was someone disguised as a New York City police officer. After all, although corruption was widespread even in this post-Serpico period, it was mostly carried out discreetly through payoffs and freebies. New York City cops did not commit overt robberies while on the job. Tom is initially appalled, but is also mesmerized by the prospect of using their positions of trust to carry out an even grander robbery: one that would put them on East Street for the rest of their lives. Using a disguise, Tom visits the domain of a local mob kingpin and discloses he and his partner are genuine members of the NYPD- and they want his help to work out a scam that will net both cops $1 million each. They are told to rob untraceable securities in the amount of $10 million, for which they will be paid a $2 million "commission". Tom and Joe create a daring plan to gain access to a major finance company on Wall Street on the very day that the Apollo 11 astronauts are receiving a ticker tape parade. Knowing the employees will be distracted, they enter the premises on the premise of checking out a minor matter. They bluff their way into the inner sanctum of the company president and hold him hostage while his secretary escorts Joe to a vault and gets the appropriate securities. As is the case in most good caper movies, things initially go well but unexpected snafus arise that threaten the cops' getaway. To say more would be to spoil the fun but suffice it to say that the climax of the movie finds them trying to collect the $2 million from the mob in the middle of Central Park- where both sides try to double-cross each other. The result is a wild car chase seems to doom not only the cops' getaway but the cops themselves.
Director Aram Avakian, working with producer Elliott Kastner, makes the most of the New York locations, eschewing studio sets for real places. This adds immeasurably to the realistic feel of the production. Both Joe Bologna and Cliff Gorman were exceptionally well cast and are completely convincing as urban cops. Bologna was starting to ride high on the heels of he and his wife Renee Taylor's success with "Lovers and Other Strangers" and "Made for Each Other". Gorman was primarily known for his acclaimed stage performance as Lenny Bruce but also won kudos for his role in William Friedkin's 1969 film production of "The Boys in the Band". He's so good in this film, you wonder why major stardom eluded him. There is also an abundance of good character actors including Dolph Sweet, Joe Spinell and Shepperd Strudwick. The witty screenplay is the work of Donald E. Westlake, a noted crime novelist who would later turn his script for the film into a successful book. Westlake only makes one creative misstep. It is essential in most crime movies that feature charismatic cads as anti-heroes that their victims are established as villains who don't deserve the sympathy of the viewer. From the classic caper flick "The Sting" to the long-running British TV series "Hustle", the targets of the con men must always be deemed to be cads. In Westlake's screenplay, the victims of the errant cops are every day, working people. Joe's stickup of the liquor store (seen over the opening credits) terrorizes innocent people. Their protracted plan to rip off the Wall Street firm similarly puts non-criminals in harm's way (although Westlake throws in a twist that is designed to water down the victim's plight). Watching the film through a modern viewpoint, when police corruption is no longer considered to be an acceptable part of every day life, the movie's disturbing celebration of officers who are violating their sacred duty to protect the public seems more distasteful today than it did at the time of the film's release. Even viewed within the context of the era, we can certainly sympathize with the cops' frustrations, but their turning to crime makes a mockery of most police officers who resist taking that path. Nevertheless, if you can overlook the sociological factors and accept the film as pure entertainment, it works wonderfully well.
The Kino Blu-ray is top quality and includes the original trailer as well as a very recent interview with Joe Bologna, who provides some witty and interesting insights into the making of the movie. There is also a trailer for the similarly-themed crime caper comedy "Bank Shot" starring George C. Scott. (also available from Kino Lorber).
One of the more enjoyable aspects of the Cinema Retro experience is that we continue to get inundated with review copies of niche market DVD and Blu-ray titles pertaining to films we've never heard of. Many of these come from Vinegar Syndrome (so-called for the nefarious affliction that attaches itself to old reels of film if they are not stored correctly.) The company has earned kudos for not only rescuing obscure titles from oblivion but releasing them in remastered versions that often include bonus extras. Much of the company's product line consists of vintage hardcore porn from the 1960s-1980s but Vinegar Syndrome also releases bizarre exploitation films from this era as well. Case in point: "The Cut-Throats", a 1969 WWII opus that is aptly described on the DVD sleeve as a cross between Nazisloitation and sexploitation genres. What is Nazisploitation? Well, it's a sordid sub-genre of low-budget film-making that took off in the 1970s and had a limited, but profitable run over the next decade. The subject matter was particularly distasteful: it involved the sexual torture and exploitation of female prisoners and concentration camp inmates as a device for stimulation. (Think "The Night Porter" without the redeeming factors.) Perhaps the most notorious of the Nazisploitation films was the infamous "Ilsa: She Wolf of the S.S." , a twisted and sickening exercise in cinematic offensiveness that should result in your crossing anyone you know who enjoyed it off your list of house guests (click here for review). "The Cut-Throats" is not a Nazisploitation film in that regard. Yes, there are women who are constantly groped but in this case the females are willing and mostly prone to doing some groping themselves. The movie was directed by one John Hayes, who apparently has a cult following for his Ed Wood-like ability to see his dream projects through despite a lack of funding or resources. This admirable quality is on display in "The Cut-Throats" from the very first frames.
The film opens on a bizarre note: a painted backdrop of a cowboy over which we hear someone warbling an old-fashioned western song. (The score is by Jamie Mendoza-Nava, who went on to compose music for other more notable "B" movies.) At first I thought I had accidentally put on some old John Ford film with the Sons of the Pioneers singing over the opening credits. Hayes's decision to open the movie with this song never makes sense in the course of what follows beyond a brief opening scene of a G.I. using a lasso. We are then introduced to the no-name cast as we see an American colonel recruit a handful of men to accompany him on a dangerous mission to infiltrate a remote German outpost and capture important documents and battle plans. What the G.I.s don't realize is that they are being duped into helping him secure possession of a chest of priceless jewels that is being hidden inside the German HQ. When the men infiltrate the compound, they quickly dispatch the German soldiers, only to find that the place is actually a bordello. The sexy females on site quickly switch allegiance and put on a bizarre stage performance consisting of singing and dancing in costume(!) Things heat up pretty quickly from that point with the G.I.s understandably lowering their resistance and bedding the young women. In one of the film's few attempts to provide some outright humor, one G.I. of German ancestry finds he is sexually stimulated by making love on a bed draped in Swastika sheets while listening to records of Hitler's speeches. Once the corrupt colonel intimidates a prostitute into showing him the hidden treasure, he considers his own men to be expendable. He uses a skirmish with a passing German motorcade as a cover to murder his own men. The film's climax finds him going mano-a-mano with a surviving German colonel as they duel over who gets possession of the jewels. (Ironically, the plot device of corrupt Americans and corrupt German soldiers vying for a fortune in stolen treasure bares a similarity to the finale of "Kelly's Heroes", which was produced the same year.)
"The Cut-Throats" is such a mess that it boggles the mind to imagine that even drive-ins or grindhouse cinemas would have shown it back in the day. However, the sexual revolution in film was a new phenomenon so any outlet horny male viewers had to ogle naked women on screen was probably assured of some financial success. The movie was clearly not made for the Noel Coward crowd. The film has an abundance of guilty pleasures, not the least of which is the fact that the film is set in "Germany". I use quotation marks because it appears this is a Germany from an alternate dimension, unless in my travels I somehow missed the nation's desert areas, where the action takes place. Then we have the main location, the German military compound which is clearly a modern housing unit that is either being constructed or deconstructed. With the house boasting a modern American facade and an empty in-ground swimming pool, one is tempted to suspect that director Hayes simply appropriated an abandoned property for the few days it probably took to film this epic. The premise is like staging a WWII action film on the same sets where "Leave It To Beaver" was shot. The editing process looks like it was achieved with a chainsaw, with abrupt cuts in abundance. There is virtually no character development beyond the most simplistic characteristics afforded the principals. Hayes did manage to find the budget for some period G.I. uniforms and weapons, as well as few German WWII-era vehicles (though one of them seems to be adorned with the Afrika Corps symbol even though the fighting is supposed to be taking place in Germany.) For cult movie purists, about the only recognizable face....well, not exactly face....I became aware of is that of Uschi Digard, whose legendary assets figure into a ludicrous sequence in which she plays the secretary to the German colonel. Upon hearing that the war is officially over, she doffs her uniform and seduces the German's young adjutant by going starkers and serving him a bottle of wine in a unique manner- by first pouring it over her trademark natural assets. The scene is representative of the entire goofy atmosphere of the production. The sex scenes feature full female nudity but never go into hardcore territory. A somewhat kinky aspect involves a scene in which two G.I's are engaging in a threesome with one of the prostitutes. One of the G.I.'s gets so carried away that he begins to caress his friend. Seeing gay sex on screen, even if played for laughs, was rather groundbreaking for 1969. Another amusing aspect of the film is the fact that some of the G.I.s and German soldiers sport hair styles that make them look like they were auditioning for The Grateful Dead.
"The Cut-Throats" will appeal only to those dedicated retro movie lovers who revel in "D" level (or in this case "double D" level) obscurities such as this. I personally enjoyed watching this train wreck of an indie film and have some grudging respect for the people involved. Back in the pre-video camera era, it was an expensive and cumbersome task to bring even a slight venture like this to reality. The Vinegar Syndrome transfer is excellent on all levels. The packaging features what I presume is the original one-sheet movie poster art which is appropriately awful. There is also an original trailer that features a narrator who seems to be doing a poor Orson Welles imitation in relating the action as though he were the voice of God. A selection of still photos are also included but they are censored with bikini tops drawn on the women so that they could be displayed in neighborhood theaters.
"The Cut-Throats" DVD is limited to only 1,500 copies.
"The Secret Partner" is yet another unheralded gem from the cinematic past that has been made available through the Warner Archive. It's a fairly low budget British film noir that nevertheless is completing engrossing and will have viewers guessing throughout. Stewart Granger is John Brent, a successful executive at a London shipping company who we find in great distress from early in the film. It seems Brent is being routinely blackmailed by his milquetoast dentist, Beldon (Norman Bird). We don't know what he has on Brent until much later in the story, a clever device used by screenwriters David Pursall and Jack Seddon that only increases the interest of the viewer. Brent understandably despises Beldon but is intimidated enough by him that he continues to pay astronomical sums of money to buy his silence. In the interim, Brent can't explain to his wife Nicole (Haya Haraeet) why their money is disappearing almost as fast as he can earn it. She logically suspects that he is seeing another woman and their marriage very publicly goes on the rocks when she moves out. Meanwhile, Beldon himself is subject to the terrors of blackmail when a masked man with a gun demands that he follows explicit instructions to administer a drug to Brent during his next dental visit. While under the influence of sleeping gas, Brent is injected with a truth serum that results in his telling Beldon the combination of his company's safe. Additionally, Beldon follows instructions to remove Brent's office keys and make a clay impression of them. The masked man promises Beldon a payoff of 15,000 pounds if he complies- and death if he doesn't. Beldon pulls off his end of the scheme and Brent appears to be none the wiser. Predictably, the office safe of Brent's employer is rob of 130,000 quid and he is the logical suspect. The case falls into the lap of Det. Superintendent Frank Hanbury (Bernard Lee), a veteran cop who is counting the days until his imminent retirement. He questions Brent but when Brent realizes he is about to be arrested for grand larceny, he flees. Hanbury relentlessly pursues him even as his investigation leads him to believe that Brent might have been set up as a fall guy. Hanbury repeatedly interviews Nicole and discovers that she is apparently having affairs with some of Brent's most trusted friends and co-workers. Meanwhile, Brent is trying to avoid the police while he conducts his own investigation, desperate to prove he is innocent.
"The Secret Partner" is a prime example of the kind of efficient, low-profile films that used to be turned out regularly decades ago and this one is top notch throughout. It's impressively directed by the ever-capable Basil Dearden, who helmed other gems like "Woman of Straw" and "Khartoum". Granger, who should have been a much bigger star, is dashing and determined as a leading man and he plays well off of the great British character actor Bernard Lee. Lee's slow, unemotional approach to solving the case is a joy to watch, as he patiently absorbs the facts and tries not to jump to conclusions even as he smokes what must be a record number of cigarettes ever consumed by one actor in one film. The film is peppered with fine performances from an impressive supporting cast with Harareet especially enticing as Brent's sexy, estranged wife. Even the smallest roles are well-performed (keep an eye out for Paul Stassino, the ill-fated NATO pilot from "Thunderball" as a pimp!). There is also a funky if somewhat bombastic jazz score by Philip Green and some nice period photography around London. The real pay off is a surprise revelation near the end of the film that I doubt even the most astute viewer will see coming.
"The Secret Partner" is a thoroughly enjoyable film that represents the cliche "They don't make 'em like that any more!"
(The following review refers to the UK release on
Region B/2 formats)
New from Arrow Films in the
UK is Fernando Di Leo’s ‘Milano Calibro 9’ (‘Milan Calibre 9’), a crime classic
from 1972 and one of the best examples of the poliziottesco (‘Italian crime
movie’) genre. Jailbird Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin) is released from San
Vittorio prison in Milan
after three years behind bars. He’s out for good behaviour, but what follows
his release is anything but. Money-laundering Godfather ‘The Mikado’ (Lionel
Stander) is convinced Ugo has hidden $300,000 he has stolen from the mob, but
despite beatings and harassment, Ugo remains silent. The hoods on his trail –
waiting for him to make a mistake and trip up – include greasy, sadistic
blabbermouth Rocco Musco (Mario Adorf). As Ugo runs afoul of the mob and the
police, he ends up on the Mikado’s payroll again, but eventually finds out that
you can’t trust anyone – not even those closest to you.
Fernando Di Leo’s crime
thriller masterpiece arrives on Blu-ray and DVD in great shape, with superb
colour and sound, and a wealth of extras. Also included in the package is a
fully illustrated collector’s booklet, featuring an insightful essay ‘Film Noir, Italian-Style: Giorgio Scerbanenco,
Fernando Di Leo and Milano Calibro 9’ by Roberto Curti, the author of ‘Italian
Crime Filmography, 1968-80’. Arrow Films’ edition contains the English language
track most fans of the film will be familiar with (with Lionel Stander dubbing
himself and Mario Adorf dubbed with a squeaky, helium whine) and the original
Italian edition (with Stander’s crime kingpin called ‘The Americano’, not the
9’ is, with Enzo G. Castellari’s ‘The Marseilles Connection’ (1973 – aka ‘High
Crime’), my favourite 1970s Italian crime movie. Both films pack a considerable
punch, emotionally and physically, and also have an underlying socio-political
agenda amid the action. In Di Leo’s film, which adapted the work of Italian
noir novelist Giorgio Scerbanenco, two police commissioners – one from the
north of Italy, one from the south – discuss and argue over the
north-south/rich-poor divide. The pair is played by actors well known to
connoisseurs of Italian genre cinema – Frank Wolff and Luigi Pistilli– and
while the scenes don’t drag, their authenticity, especially in the English
language dub, is occasionally questionable. For example, would a Milanese
commissioner of police ever use a phrase like ‘dangling dingleberries’? The
film could do without these scenes, Di Leo reckons in retrospect, but they
remained in the original cut of the film. With actors of the calibre of Wolff
and Pistilli is supporting roles, writer-director Di Leo obviously fields a
very strong cast. Gastone Moschin, the fascist agent from Bertolucci’s ‘The
Conformist’ (1970), is superb as the stoic, tough nut Ugo Piazza, an immovable
object who the Mikado’s ruffians just can’t break. Ugo ‘had it made’ but
couldn’t resist biting the hand that fed him. Now that hand pummels him, in an
attempt to find the whereabouts of the missing $300,000.
Compared to taciturn Ugo (an
indeed everyone else in the film) Mario Adorf’s performance as Rocco is like a
whirlwind. Smashing his way through life with zero regard for the pain, suffering
and hatred he generates, he dominates the film. Adorf is one of the great
European actors of his generation and the more films of his I watch, the more
impressed I am by his skill. He was great in westerns – the crazy bandido in ‘Last
Ride to Santa Cruz’ (1964), landgrabbing villain Santer in ‘Winnetou the
Warrior’ (1963 – ‘Apache Gold’) and the bandit with a spur instead of an arm in
Sergio Corbucci’s ‘The Specialists’ (1969 – ‘Drop Them of I’ll Shoot’) – but was
equally at home in comedies, such as the caper ‘The Treasure of San Gennaro’
(1966) or the Oscar-winning drama ‘The Tin Drum’ (1979). Rocco’s two humourless
henchmen, Pasquale and Nicola, were played by Mario Novelli and Giuseppe
Castellano. Barbara Bouchet was Ugo’s go-go dancing girlfriend Nelly. Bouchet’s
psychedelic dance routine (in a nightclub of the type that only ever appear in
Italian crime movies) wearing a beaded bikini, is a visual highlight. Philippe
Leroy gave a commanding performance as Ugo’s ally Chino, who’s a tough as they come, and Ivo
Garrani played aged crime kingpin, Don Vincenzo, a once-important man, now
blind and consumed by loneliness. Even the characters at the corners of Di
Leo’s drama are given life, through professional performances from familiar
The powerful score was
composed by Luis Enriquez Bacalov. It’s partly traditional orchestral
arrangements, but Bacalov also collaborated with Italian prog-rock band Osanna
on the soundtrack. Bacalov had worked with the band The New Trolls to great
success on Maurizio Lucidi’s thriller ‘The Designated Victim’ (1971) and in
fact the song ‘My Shadow in the Dark’ from Lucidi’s film accompanies a scene
between Ugo and Nelly in ‘Calibro 9’. ‘Milano Calibro 9’ was photographed by
Franco Villa in an autumnal, inhospitable Milan, with interiors at DEAR
Studios. Di Leo shot on the streets of Milan and also in such authentic
locations as the Milano Centrale railway station on Piazza Duca d’Aosta and on
the canals and bridges of the Navigli district (both of which have now been
renovated since the film was made). The pre-titles sequence, the greatest
opening scene of any Italian crime movie, introduces twitchy hood Omero Cappana
walking through SempionePark in Milan, towards a cash drop-off. The hood is
revealed in the opening shot of the film, as the camera pans down Torre Branca
(BrancaTower), an iron panoramic tower in SempionePark. The top of the tower is a viewing
point – did De Leo film some of the title sequence’s cityscape panoramas across
Milan from the
top of here? The scene is accompanied by a mellow flute motif, not unlike one
deployed by Bacalov in Sergio Corbucci’s ‘Django’ (1966) where it too is a
prelude to a savage burst of violence. The action then proceeds to Piazza Del
Duomo (Duomo Square)
in Milan where
the cash handover, a strange game of pass-the-parcel, begins. The music
develops from the flute melody, to staccato piano, relentless strings and
eventually explodes into a full-throttle prog-rock jam, as violence explodes on
the screen. When the hoods find out they have been duped in this cash exchange,
they take horrific revenge on the double-crossers. Be aware, Di Leo’s film is
very violent, and just as it begins with an act of extreme savagery, it ends
with one too, in a scene that’ll pin you back in your chair.
In viewing Warner Brothers' DVD edition of the 1972 film Skykacked, I was totally prepared for another cheesy Seventies disaster film - an Airport Lite, if you will. Initially, my premonitions were shaping up to come true. The script follows the tradition of presenting the quasi-all-star cast by rote, with each actor given a few precious seconds to establish their personality quirks and telegraph what their dilemma will be once the inevitable crisis unfolds. In this case, the plot is simple enough to make The Poseidon Adventure look like The Big Sleep. Rock-jawed Charlton Heston is the pilot of a commercial airliner on which the head flight attendant (or "stewardess" in the vernacular of the day) is former lover Yvette Yvette Mimieux. Shortly after the flight takes off, a message is discovered written in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. There is someone aboard who claims to have a bomb they will detonate if the plane isn't diverted to Anchorage, Alaska. It isn't giving the store away to inform you that the mad bomber is James Brolin. Not only is this revealed very shortly into the film, but you'd have to be blind, deaf and dumb to not realize he is the bad guy - especially when the other passengers consist of pregnant Mariette Hartley, folksy musician Rosie Grier and crusty U.S. Senator Walter Pidgeon. Besides, the brainiac who designed the menu for the DVD eliminates any doubt of the culprit's identity because the still photo they used on the main menu shows Brolin holding a gun on the cockpit crew.
The Hound of the Baskervilles 1959 Directed
by Terence Fisher, Starring Peter Cushing, André Morell and Christopher Lee.
Arrow Blu-Ray release date: 1st June 2015
Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tale The Hound of the Baskervilles is a thrilling
story that has stood the test of time. Featuring London’s super sleuth Sherlock
Holmes, this adventure sees him travel to Dartmoor’s Baskerville Hall where Charles
Baskerville has been found dead and under mysterious circumstances. As cinema’s
most filmed character of all time - Sherlock Holmes movies have acquired
something of a unique place in history. One might perhaps think back to the
days of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in order to recapture their first
encounter of this classic filmed adventure. Hammer Studios had begun to revisit
these classic horrors and thrillers throughout the mid to late Fifties, with
filmed projects such as The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula. So it was
perhaps no surprise that the studio picked up The Hound of the Baskervilles and
splashed it with their own distinctive and original blend of Hammer style.
terms of general entertainment value, the film works very well in deed. Peter
Cushing’s Holmes offers a new perspective, bold and abrasive; he provides a
genuine freshness to the role. Cushing injects a much needed character boost to
Holmes, and one which relegated Rathbone’s later portrayals into bleak
obscurity. Cushing certainly appears to relish within the role, and many have
argued in favour of his performance as being the very best presented on screen.
He is once again paired alongside his regular sparring partner, the recently (and
sadly) departed Christopher Lee. It was a nice departure for Lee, who regarded
it as one of his first major romantic leads. It was a refreshing change playing
the dashing hero type role, especially in contrast to his more regular monster appearances.
The chemistry between Cushing and Lee is quite wonderful, and their shared
screen time is something rather special and memorising. The film also boasts
some fine support, particularly from André Morell, who provides us with an
astute and wisely Dr. Watson. Morell is afforded a generous amount of screen
time in Hammer’s remake and he seems to thrive during every second of it.
is a wonderful, vintage feel about the film, it not only bubbles away with
Hammer’s unique sense of atmosphere, but it benefits from an ‘old time’ pacey
narrative. Director Terence Fisher never seems to let the film fall short; he
keeps it tight without ever letting momentum wain. There is a healthy vitality
about Hammer’s remake, helped undoubtedly by composer James Bernard's energetic
score which bristles along nicely. Despite the diversions away from Conan
Doyle's original novel, the story is respectfully handled and works
exceptionally well. It has certainly withstood the test of time andl remains a
hugely enjoyable piece of entertainment. Is it as good as Rathbone’s 1939
version? That’s a tough question, and for me, the jury is still out. I would
certainly sleep easier placing them side by side and treating them with the
equal respect they both deserve.
The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first filmed version to be shot in vivid
colour. Everything is bathed with sumptuous textures from hunting red riding
costumes to splendid tweed suits and rich wooden panelling. So with all things
considered, there was perhaps an overall expectancy that this should look
positively beautiful after being afforded the Blu-ray treatment. Well, in some
ways the upgrade works, but not without some minor troubles.
Blu-ray is still probably the best I have seen on any home video format, but
that shouldn’t really surprise anybody. However, like a lot of recent Hammer
films to emerge on the Blu-ray format, the image does remain a little on the soft
side, not perhaps as soft as The Curse of Frankenstein but nowhere near as
crisp or sharp as say Quatermass and the Pit. Whilst a great deal of the movie
takes place at night, even interior lit scenes also tend to be a little on the
dark side and lack any real vitality. Viewers may well be left questioning why
this couldn’t have been corrected or improved during the mastering process, but
it simply remains a little too bland and muted on the eye. Added to this problem
was a fairly large amount of white speckle which seemed to haunt the picture
is an area that I still find generally unacceptable, especially in consideration
of today’s technology; the process of eliminating such flecks and particles is
a fairly easy (albeit) time consuming element of restoration. Today, with any
Blu-ray purchase, there is arguably a degree of basic requirements that one
would like to expect, including a fairly good, cleaned up picture. With The
Hound of the Baskervilles, it became something more than just a minor
distraction and instead fell into the category of unavoidable hindrance, and that
is a genuine shame. If a company can produce for example, a near spotless print
of Frankenstein (1931) is there any reason why a 1959 movie shouldn’t look just
as clean? I don’t believe that’s too much to ask.
the bonus features on this disc appear to balance out and make up for the
film’s minor quality issues. Firstly there is a super new audio commentary featuring
the always reliable Hammer experts Marcus Hearn along with Jonathan Rigby. For
the purist of Hammer fans, there is also an Isolated Music and Effects track.
Listen carefully to this during the opening scenes and your ears will certainly
reveal how background conversation tracks are most definitely looped…
the Hound! Is a brand new 30 minute documentary looking at the genesis and
making of the Hammer classic, featuring interviews with hound mask creator
Margaret Robinson, film historian Kim Newman and actor/documentarian and
co-creator of BBC’s Sherlock Mark Gatiss.
Morell: Best of British is another excellent featurette looking at the late
great actor André Morell and his work with Hammer.
Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes is a 1986 documentary looking at the many
incarnations of Conan Doyle’s celebrated character and is narrated and
presented by Christopher Lee. It does have a typical television look about it
and clearly shows the limitations of video tape, on which it was clearly shot.
Nevertheless, it’s fairly enjoyable in its own right.
Notebook: Christopher Lee – an archive interview in which the actor looks back
on his role as Sir Henry Baskerville. This is a nice little piece dating back
to around 2003, wherein Christopher Lee also speaks fondly and movingly about
his friendship with Peter Cushing.
Hounds of the Baskervilles excerpts read by Christopher Lee. A couple of
passages are included in this section. Plus there is also an original theatrical
trailer (b/w) and an extensive gallery featuring over 140 images including
photos, posters and lobby cards.
packaging includes a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly
commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper and a collector’s booklet featuring new
writing on the film by former Hammer archivist Robert J.E. Simpson and
illustrated with original archive stills and posters.
you are prepared to be tolerant of the films minor imperfections – you will no
doubt be happy with the overall package. Frankly, it still remains the best
version currently open to the market.
Until the sexual revolution of the mid-to-late 1960s was embraced by the film industry, the subject of homosexuality was dealt with in schizophrenic manner by studios. There were some bold attempts to address the subject in a serious and sympathetic manner, but fine movies like The Trials of Oscar Wilde and Victim were relegated to art-house hell and never enjoyed a wide audience. Indeed, it was the complete financial failure of the former film that motivated, in desperation, producer Cubby Broccoli to dust off the idea of adapting the James Bond novels for the screen. In other cases, the movies were more high profile (i.e Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Children's Hour) but studios forced the directors to substantially water down overt references to homosexuality. Within a few short years, however, the situation had changed dramatically. While many characters were often presented as comical stereotypes, there were other bold attempts to address more realistic approaches to the traumas faced by gays and lesbians. Going one rung further, a few films actually took on such issues as cross-dressing and transsexuals. One of the more notable films of the era was The Christine Jorgensen Story, released in 1970. However, as well-meaning as the movie was, it was generally regarded as an exploitation movie with a good dose of shlock and some unintended laughs. (Click here for review)
Far more impressive was the 1972 British film I Want What I Want...To Be a Woman starring Anne Heywood in a daring performance as an effeminate young man who secretly desires to be a woman. Unlike the real-life Christine Jorgensen, this story is not based on fact, but a novel by writer Geoff Brown. Roy is a sensitive twenty-something man who is living a nightmarish life. He's the son of a macho, ex-army officer (the always brilliant Harry Andrews) who spends most of his time drinking with high society types while he seduces their women. Roy and his father have a fractious relationship as the old man refuses to acknowledge the obvious fact that his son looks more like the daughter he never had. He tries to force Roy into macho behavior by having him escort women on fraudulent dates and making him sit with other men in drawing rooms to argue politics over cigars and brandy. Meanwhile, all Roy wants to do is explore his feminine side. Eventually he can't resist the urge to dress as a woman and is caught in the act by his appalled father, who slaps him around and humiliates him. Distraught, Roy leaves his home to establish a new life in a far away town. This represents his first public appearance as a woman and the film conveys the anxiety cross dressers must feel when they make such a "debut". Although Heywood makes a head-turning woman, we have to remember she's supposed to be a man. As such, she gives a riveting performance and demonstrates the inevitable paranoia that might accompany such a bold lifestyle decision. Roy is convinced that everyone he passes on the street knows his secret.
wonderful, eclectic hodgepodge collection of vintage 3-D, tests, shorts,
animation and trailers has been released on Blu Ray recently by Flicker
Alley. 3-D Rarities, released on the Flicker Alley label, is for film and nostalgia buffs, alike. This is a wonderful snapshot of 3-D motion
picture photography from early tests in the 1920’s up through 1962, and arrives
in time to honor the 100-year anniversary of the exhibition of 3D films.
wasn’t just a brief fad in the 50’s but was found in sporadic use for specialized
presentations up through then. Early
surviving shorts show us wonderful glimpses of Washington DC and New York City,
with wonderful perspective. Two company
films follow, Thrills For You and New Dimensions.Thrills
for You was produced by The Pennsylvania Railroad for exhibition at the
Golden Gate International Exposition in 1940 in San Francisco. This B&W wonder gives a viewer an all too
brief look at railroading in its heyday from GG1 electrics, steam engines and
the lounge cars (although why an East Coast Railroad would promote itself on
the West Coast and not in its own territory is beyond me). New
Dimensions is an eye popping Technicolor feast of animation, produced for exhibition
at the 1940 Worlds Fair. Perfectly
synchronized with music and effects, a Chrysler is assembled one piece at a
the collection moves into the 50’s, the disc contains 3-D trailers for: It Came From Outer Space; Hannah Lee; The
Maze and Miss Sadie Thompson. Shorts include special intros for the
first 3-D film, Bwana Devil, hosted
by Lloyd Nolan (with a guest appearance by Beany & Cecil); Stardust in Your Eyes, which played
with Robot Monster and features
comic Slick Slaven, doing impressions, telling some jokes and singing a tune or
Doom Town is a very odd take
on the Atom Bomb and tests that were being done at Yucca Flats. Somewhat flippant in its tone and very
critical of this new super weapon, it only played a few bookings and
disappeared from view. Another great
short is the Casper cartoon Boo Moon,
another Technicolor visual feast.
is most noteworthy (and appreciated) is the restoration/cleanup work that has
been done on these films. Many were
transferred from the only surviving elements and had properties such as color
fade, shrinkage and other damage. The
bane of 3-D presentations was always the potential of a technical foul-up that
even one frame could produce. The images
here are extremely clean and have been color corrected and registered in place
to be able to deliver a comfortable 3-D viewing experience (and will always be
in sync when viewed from this Blu-Ray). Kudos to Bob Furmanek at the 3-D Archive for
finding these gems as well as Greg Kintz for the digital restoration. They both
deserve a big hand for their efforts.
are plenty of other shorts, including some risqué footage shot by, pre-Godfather, film student Francis Ford
Coppola, as well as a very informative, multi-page booklet with essays on every
short in there. It is certainly worth the modest price for these nostalgic
abbreviated version of the contents have just completed a successful run at New
York’s Museum of Modern Art and will be showing up in special engagements
across the country this summer.Please
for further information about this project and others.
Bonus Materials Include:
- Introductions by Leonard Maltin and Trustin Howard.
- Essays by Julian Antos, Hillary Hess, Thad Komorowski, Donald McWilliams, Ted
Okuda, Mary Ann Sell and Jack Theakston.
- 3-D photo galleries - Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), New York World's Fair
(1939), Sam Sawyer View-Master reels (1950) and 3-D Comic Books (1953).
- 3-D footage directed by Francis Ford Coppola from The Bellboy and the
- Commentary tracks by Thad Komorowski and Jack Theakston.
TO WATCH THE 3-D VERSIONS OF THESE FILMS, YOU NEED:
- 3D HDTV
- COMPATIBLE 3D GLASSES
- BLU-RAY 3DTM PLAYER OR PLAYSTATION 3 SYSTEM*
- HIGH-SPEED HDMI CABLE
For those of us who are hopelessly addicted to spy movies of the 1960s, the Warner Archive provides a gift: the first DVD release of "The Scorpio Letters", one of the more obscure 007-inspired espionage films of the era. Produced by MGM, the movie was shown on American TV in early 1967 before enjoying a theatrical release in Europe. It seems the studio was trying to emulate the strategy that it was employing at the time for its phenomenally popular "Man From U.N.C.L.E." TV series. That show had proven to be such a hit with international audiences that MGM strung together two-part episodes and released them theatrically. (Three films were released in America but a total of eight were shown in international markets.) As "The Scorpio Letters" was produced with a theatrical run in mind, it has a bit more gloss than the average TV movie, which was then a genre in its infancy. Nevertheless, it still has all the earmarks of a production with a limited budget. Although set in London and France, you'd have to be pretty naive to believe any of the cast and crew ever got out of southern California. Grainy stock footage is used to simulate those locations and there is ample use of the very distinctive MGM back lot, which at times makes the film resemble an episode of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." What the movie does provide is some nice chemistry between its two lead actors, Alex Cord, who had recently acquitted himself quite well in the underrated 1966 big screen remake of John Ford's "Stagecoach" and Shirley Eaton, then still riding the wave of popularity she enjoyed as the iconic "golden girl" from the Bond blockbuster "Goldfinger". The two play rival spies in London, both working for different British intelligence agencies, though whether it is MI5 or MI is never made clear.
The film is based on a novel by Victor Caning that had been adapted for the screen by the ironically named Adrian Spies, who had a long career working primarily in television. (Curiously, his one credited feature film was for the superb 1968 adventure "Dark of the Sun" (aka "The Mercenaries".) There is nothing remarkable about his work on "The Scorpio Letters". In fact, Spies provides a rather confusing plot. The film opens on a jarring note with a man taking a suicidal plunge from his apartment window in London. Turns out he was a British intelligence agent and the reasons for his suicide are of great interest to the higher ups in the spy business. Alex Cord plays Joe Christopher, an American ex-cop who now does work for one of the intelligence agencies run by Burr (the ever-reliable Laurence Naismith). Burr orders him to get to the bottom of the suicide case and in doing so, Joe gains access to the dead man's apartment just in time to encounter a mysterious man stealing a letter addressed to the dead agent. A foot chase ensues that ends with both men getting struck by a London double decker bus (yes, MGM had one of those laying around the back lot.) Still, Joe manages to steal back the letter the man had swiped and finds it is obviously a blackmail attempt made against the dead agent by a mystery person who goes by the name of Scorpio. From there the plot gets rather confusing and becomes one of those thrillers that is best enjoyed if you stop trying to figure out who is who and just sit back and enjoy the ride. Joe flirts with Phoebe Stewart (Shirley Eaton), who works in another intelligence agency. It appears her boss and Joe's boss are constantly trying to undermine each other in the attempt to solve major cases. Phoebe makes an attempt to seduce Joe, but he correctly suspects that she is trying to compromise him for information he knows about the case. Inevitably, a real romance blossoms but the love scenes are pretty mild, perhaps due to the fact that this film was made with a television broadcast in mind. (The plot invokes the old joke of having the would-be lovers get interrupted every time they attempt to get it on.)
Joe gets a lead that takes him to Paris where he discovers that Scorpio is the man behind a shadowy spy network that uses agents employed as waiters in an upscale restaurant. I imagine the reason for this is explained somewhere along the line but it's just one more confusing element to the script. Joe infiltrates the spies/waiters gang in the hopes of finding out who Scorpio is. Meanwhile, in the film's best scene, he is exposed, captured and tortured. There is even a modicum of suspense as there appears to be no logical way he will get out of this particular death trap. Refreshingly, Joe is no 007. He makes miscalculations, gets bruised and beaten and often has to rely on the intervention of others to save him. (In the film's climax, finding himself outmanned and outgunned, he actually does the logical thing and asks someone to call the local police for help.) Ultimately, Scorpio is revealed to be one of those standard, aristocratic spy villains of Sixties cinema. In this case he is played by the very able Oscar Beregi Jr. If you don't know the name, you'll know his face, as he excelled in playing urbane bad guys in countless TV shows and feature films of the era. There are numerous kidnappings, shootouts, double crosses and red herrings and one bizarre sequence that is ostensibly set in a French ski resort in which the ski lift is inexplicably in operation even though it's summer. Additionally, the California mountains look as much like France as Jersey City does.
Despite all of the gripes, I enjoyed watching "The Scorpio Letters". It's an entertaining, fast-moving diversion, directed with unremarkable efficiency by Richard Thorpe (his second-to-last film). Cord makes for a very capable leading man, tossing off the requisite wisecracks even while undergoing torture. Eaton possesses the kind of old world glamour you rarely see on screen nowadays. Together, they make an otherwise mediocre movie play out better than it probably should. (A minor trivia note: this represents the first film score of composer Dave Grusin, who would go on to become an Oscar winner.)
The Warner Archive DVD transfer is very impressive and the film contains an original trailer, which presumably was used in non-U.S. markets.
"Signpost to Murder", which has been released on DVD by the Warner Archive, is the kind of modest production that major studios used to routinely produce in the hopes of generating some equally modest profits in quick playoff situations. The MGM production was made in 1964 and ostensibly takes place in England. However, the British countryside is represented by small village set shot on a Hollywood back lot, along with one of the most unconvincing matte paintings ever created. Fortunately the film is a claustrophobic affair that all too obviously betrays its origins as a stage play, thus relegating most of the action to an elegant country home that adjoins a giant water mill wheel. The film opens in an asylum for the insane where we find the protagonist, Alex Forrester (Stuart Whitman), as a reformed inmate who had been incarcerated for the murder of his wife. His progressive psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Fleming (Edward Mulhare), makes a plea for his patient's release back into general society but the request is refused. Driven to severe despair, Alex clunks the doctor over the head and uses his clothing as a disguise to escape the prison. With a manhunt under way, he makes tracks for the mill house residence, which he has long admired from years of gazing out of his cell window. Once there, he secretly enters the home just in time to see it's sole resident, Molly Thomas (Joanne Woodward), sauntering around the home modeling bathing suits for a forthcoming village fashion show. (Who said timing isn't everything?) Alex gets a hold of a shotgun and forces Molly to tell visiting police detectives that all is well. In reality, she is awaiting the return of her husband from a business trip to Amsterdam- a fact that unnerves Alex. Because of the film's abbreviated running time (a scant 78 minutes), events move along at an improbably fast pace. In the course of the evening, Molly ends up using Alex as her own de facto shrink and confides that she isn't overjoyed at the prospect of seeing her husband. Turns out he's been cold and inattentive. For his part, Alex confides that he isn't even sure that he ever murdered his wife due to the shock of seeing her body in a bathtub. From that point, his memory of the evening in question blanked out. Before long, these two lonely people are making goo-goo eyes at each other and there is an implication things go even further. Molly believes in the innocence of her "house guest" and continues to hide his presence from all visitors, of which there are quite a few. In fact, for a remote country house, the place seems to have more people ambling about than Victoria Station. Events go into overdrive, however, when Alex believes he sees the body of Molly's husband revolving on the giant water wheel. Naturally, when she goes to look, the body isn't there. She assures him that it was all in his imagination, but Alex begins to doubt his own sanity and wonders if he may have murdered yet again. When Molly's husband does turn up dead, the story becomes one of those typical British drawing room mysteries in which all the principals gather in the living room while some red herrings are dismissed and some astonishing facts are revealed.
Although the production boasts some genuine and fine British character actors (Mulhare and Alan Napier among them), the film has an odd feel to it because the two leads are so obviously American. Whitman initially injects his manner of speech with a half-hearted attempt at a British accent, but it inexplicably disappears. Woodward doesn't even go that far. A simple line of dialogue explaining that she is an American would have helped, but lacking that, one can't help but be distracted by her "California Girl" mannerisms and speech. Woodward's presence in this low budget black and white production is a bigger mystery than the murder plot, given the fact that she was already a major star and an Oscar winner by this point in her career. Yet, she and Whitman do have considerable chemistry together- and if the prospect of a woman falling for a presumably psychopathic killer sounds far-fetched, just consider that major jail break in New York state in which a female prison employee helped two murderers escape because she thought they were in love with her. Under the capable direction of George Englund, the film moves at a brisk pace and is a pleasing time-killer. I suspected one major plot device from the beginning but I do admit that a second one came as a bit of a surprise. As a trivia note, fans of 1960s spy movies will probably recognize the mill house set as the exact location of the opening sequence of the "Man From U.N.C.L.E." feature film "To Trap a Spy".
The Warner Archive DVD features an original trailer in which the narrator refers to the star as "Joan" Woodward!
Way back in the 1970s while in college, I took a course dedicated to classic films. The teacher was Herbert J. Leder, an affable, if eccentric, professor who also had the distinction of having directed some films for major studios. They were all "B" movies, but they did get wide release. One of them was titled "The Frozen Dead", a 1967 Hammer horror wanna be with Dana Andrews as a mad Nazi doctor who plans to use cloning to revive the Third Reich in modern day England. As a joke, Herb showed the film one day in his "Classics of the Cinema" class. It was mildly diverting fare, no better or worse than much of what Hammer itself was releasing during this time period. A couple of years later, Fox released "The Boys From Brazil", a major adaptation of Ira Levin's bestselling thriller. The plot centered on a mad Nazi doctor who was using cloning to revive the Third Reich in modern society. I was rather shocked at the similarity of the story lines and discussed it with Herb Leder, who was dismissive of pursuing any possibility that Levin's novel might have been influenced by his "B" movie. Today, of course, the mindset would probably be different and a lawsuit, frivolous or not, would probably have been brought against all parties concerned with "The Boys From Brazil". The film version of Levin's novel was greeted with mixed reviews. I recall arguing the movie's merits (or lack thereof) with my mentor, Playboy film critic Bruce Williamson. I found the movie to be highly enjoyable and I was particularly impressed by Gregory Peck's refreshing change of pace, playing an outright villain, the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele. Williamson said he felt that Peck reminded him of a drunk at a party who puts a lampshade on his head in an attempt to bring attention to himself. Nevertheless, upon seeing the film again through the Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory, my admiration for the movie remains undiminished.
The movie begins with a series of suspenseful sequences in which a determined young American, Barry Kohler, (Steve Guttenberg) in South America doggedly and surreptitiously tracks and photographs the activities of suspected former Nazis.He becomes increasingly audacious and manages to bug one of their meetings. He is shocked to learn that they have launched a plan to revive the Third Reich through the efforts of the world's most wanted man, the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, who oversaw barbaric "medical experiments" at Auschwitz. Kohler makes contact with the legendary Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier), who runs a drastically underfunded operation with his sister (Lili Palmer) that attempts to bring war criminals to justice. Lieberman is sarcastic to the young man and dismisses his information- until he suspects that he has been murdered. Lieberman then launches his own investigation, traveling internationally to interview parties who might shed light on the conspiracy. He finds that the ex-Nazis have ordered the murder of 94 civil servants around the globe who are all in their mid-60s. As the investigation continues, he suspects that Mengele has cloned DNA from Adolf Hitler and that there are now teenage boys coming of age as sons of the men who have been marked for murder. Mengele needs to replicate the exact occurrences in the life of Hitler, including the death of his father when he was a teenager. By doing so, he hopes that at least one of the 94 boys will become a leader for the revived Reich.
The premise of the plot is an unlikely one to involve the likes of Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier and James Mason, who plays another ex-Nazi who pulls the plug on Mengele's plans, thus forcing the arch villain to act independently to see his scheme through to fruition. Indeed, there are times the film seems like a dusted off vehicle for old time character actor George Zucco, who reveled in playing mad doctors. However, under the direction of Franklin J. Schaffner, the pace is brisk, the story involving and the performances are compelling. Add to all this a superb musical score by Jerry Goldsmith and it's hard to resist the movie, despite its abundance of guilty pleasures. The finale is a bizarre doozy in which Mengele and Lieberman (who is obviously supposed to be real life Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal) end up in a wrestling match in the presence of bloodthirsty hounds! Olivier overdoes the feeble old Jewish guy routine (a performance he would recreate practically verbatim as Neil Diamond's cantor father in "The Jazz Singer" a couple of years later). Nevertheless, he's fun to watch. An irony is that, although Gregory Peck gives the superior performance, it was Olivier who got a Best Actor nomination. Adding to the irony, Olivier had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor two years before for playing a thinly-veiled Mengele in "Marathon Man". There are plenty of fine supporting performances including Anne Meara in a rare dramatic role, Bond baddie Walter Gotell, John Dehner, Rosemary Harris, Uta Hagen, Denholm Elliott, Bruno Ganz and Linda Hayden. Young Jeremy Black is especially creepy as the teenage boy who doesn't realize he is carrying Hitler's DNA.
The Shout! Factory Blu-ray does justice to this opulent production that is dripping in atmosphere. An original trailer is also included.
The Warner Archive has released the 1964 Bob Hope comedy "A Global Affair". On the surface, it's standard Hope fare from this era but there are some interesting, if bizarre, aspects to the production. Most notably, the film was done with the cooperation of the United Nations and plays at times like a promotional feature for the perpetually beleaguered institution. Hope plays Frank Larrimore, a swinging New York City bachelor who works for the U.N. He is also a passionate advocate for children and has been unsuccessfully trying to get the U.N. to adopt a program that will grant certain basic international rights to minors. When an unseen mother leaves her baby at the U.N. before a holiday weekend, the Undersecretary General (Nehemiah Persoff) orders Larrimore to act as the child's guardian for a few days. This results in certain predictable gags as Larrimore fumbles his way through the daily basics of caring for the kid. He totes her around in a pet carrier, powders her with sugar and uses kitchen towels as diapers. When word leaks out about the U.N.'s "orphan", every country makes demands that the child be brought up as a citizen of that nation. The debate escalates to an international story and Larrimore finds himself saddled with the tyke for an extended period. He is given the unenviable task of judging which nation would be best-suited for the adoption. To help him cope with the pressure, he is assigned another U.N. employee, Lisette (Michele Mercier), a lovely French girl who immediately locks horns with Larrimore about his inabilities and his hedonistic lifestyle. This is exacerbated by the frequent presence of his upstairs neighbor Randy (Robert Sterling in the kind of role usually played by Tony Randall or Gig Young), who uses the baby as a lure to bring gorgeous single women to Larrimore's apartment for wild parties. As you might imagine, Larrimore and Lisette gradually fall in love even as they seek out the right parentage for the baby. Things get complicated when female representatives of various nations attempt to seduce him in order to influence his decision. For a swinging bachelor, Larrimore seems curiously immune to feminine charms. He deftly avoids one seduction attempt after another and even calls the police to remove one such lovely, a bustier-clad Yvette (Elga Andersen) from his bed. In terms of his love life, Larrimore seems less into the world of Hugh Hefner than the domain of the Boys in the Band, given the lengths he goes to in avoiding intimacy with women. This includes cougar Yvonne De Carlo, who smokes up the screen with an impressive Flamenco dance number. Ultimately, the movie breezes to a conclusion that is telegraphed in the first five minutes of the story.
The film plays out in predictable style and, like most Hope vehicles, keeps a brisk pace this time under the direction of veteran helmer Jack Arnold. It took four writers (including Charles Lederer and Arthur Marx) to develop this sitcom-like script that relies entirely on Hope's standard shtick. Fortunately, he's up to the task. Hope's genius is that he knew his limitations and never went beyond them. He played essentially the same character in every movie he made and his ability to toss off a wisecrack was rivaled only by Groucho Marx. (When queried by a U.N. delegate about what he knows about Turkey, he quips "I know the white meat is tender!"). The film provides some mildly amusing scenarios, some concerning Larrimore's fussy landlord played by the inimitable John McGiver. The equally impressive character actress Reta Shaw has a brief bit and Barbara Bouchet has a small role as well. There are some unintentional laughs whenever Larrimore is required to remind the audience of all the good works the U.N. does for the world, which was obviously a quid pro quo for being allowed to film on the premises. This dialogue has all the natural flow of someone in a hostage video. There are also some dated jokes involving U Thant, Soviet gulags and the Cuban Missile Crisis. (There is even a cameo by Adlai Stevenson!)
In al, "A Global Affair" is much ado about nothing- but the irresistible lure of Bob Hope and the sheer number of glamorous young actresses make this black and white production a pleasant way to spend 84 minutes.
War II vet Jim Fletcher (Bill Williams) awakens in a Navy hospital bed after
languishing in a coma for two years. He
learns that he’s despised by other patients and hospital staff as a traitor,
but he has no idea what he’s supposed to have done wrong. Amnesia has erased that portion of his
memory. Overhearing that he’s going to
be court-martialed, Jim escapes from the hospital and seeks help from his buddy
Mark Gregory. But he learns from a
newspaper headline that Mark is dead, and that he is blamed for the “torture
at gunpoint, and then willingly when she begins to realize that Jim is
innocent, Mark’s widow Martha (Barbara Hale) helps the fugitive hunt for
another friend, Ted Niles (Richard Quine). Jim, Ted, and Mark were fellow prisoners in a Japanese POW camp, Jim’s
last memory before his coma. He hopes
that Niles can help him piece together what happened, and why he’s being chased
by Naval Intelligence and two mysterious killers. The mystery is compounded when Jim and Martha
grab dinner at a restaurant in Los Angeles’ Chinatown and Jim spots an Asian man whom he recognizes as Tokoyama (Richard Loo), the sadistic prison-camp guard
who haunts him in PTSD mental flashbacks.
Clay Pigeon” (1949) is an efficient little B-movie, what studios called a
“programmer” in the old days to fill the bottom half of a theatrical double bill. A trim 63 minutes long, it’s typical of the
modestly budgeted, black-and-white crime dramas cranked out by Hollywood during
and after WWII. Like TV series dramas a
decade later, these unassuming pictures provided on-the-job experience for
up-and-coming young talent who would go on to write, direct, and produce more
prestigious works. In this case, the
young talents were 35-year-old scriptwriter Carl Foreman and 33-year-old
director Richard Fleischer, here billed as “Richard O. Fleischer.” Fans of classic Hollywood spectacle fondly
remember Fleischer for “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” (1954), “The Vikings” (1958), and “Tora! Tora! Tora!”
(1970). Just as readily, Cinema Retro fans are likely to associate him
with cult favorites like “The Don Is Dead” (1973), “Soylent Green” (1973),
“Mandingo” (1975), and “Mr. Majestyk” (1975).
direction in “The Clay Pigeon” includes some compelling Noir visuals and
situations. In the opening scene of
Fletcher in close-up in his hospital bed, two anonymous hands enter the frame,
feel along the unconscious man’s face, then suddenly close on his throat. Later, Jim is chased through anonymous big
city (L.A.) streets by two menacing characters in fedoras. In their initial meeting, Martha apparently
welcomes Jim and says she’s glad to see her husband’s friend. Then, realizing that Martha has gone into the
next room not to fix coffee but to call the police, Jim lunges in and grabs the
phone. The two engage in a believably
frantic scuffle. Jim clinches with
Martha and covers her mouth, she struggles and bites his hand, and Jim knocks
this first, tense half-hour, the movie loses some of its momentum as Martha
becomes Jim’s ally and the couple take time out from their flight to picnic on
the beach and engage in some silly banter. But the final scenes pick up stride again as Fletcher is trapped by his
enemies on a speeding train -- a foreshadowing of Fleischer’s claustrophobic,
train-bound thriller a year later, “The Narrow Margin” (1950). One sequence reflects screenwriter Foreman’s
interest in social issues, as another war widow, played by Marya Marco, hides
Fletcher from Tokoyama and his gunmen. The widow is Japanese-American, and Fletcher notices that one of the
items in her apartment is a commendation to her late husband, also
Japanese-American, who was killed in action against the Nazis in Europe. It’s nice to see that the studio cast
Asian-American actors Loo and Marco in prominent speaking roles in an era in
which white actors were cast all too often as Asians. As old-movie and classic-TV enthusiasts know,
stars Williams and Hale were married in real life. Two other familiar faces in early stages of
their careers, Martha Hyer and Robert Bray, have bit roles.
Warner Archive Collection release of “The Clay Pigeon” is a
manufactured-on-demand DVD-R. The 1.37:1
image, pillarboxed for widescreen TVs, is sharp and clean, so sharp in fact
that the grainy stock footage used in the train sequence is distractingly
apparent. There are no extras, chapter
stops, or subtitles on the disc.
it opened in theaters some 55 years ago, on July 13, 1960, producer/director
Irwin Allen’s “The Lost World” promised 96 minutes of exotic, CinemaScope,
Color by DeLuxe fantasy adventure about dinosaurs and modern-day explorers in a
remote corner of the world. As difficult
as it may be for older filmgoers to remember today, and for younger ones to
even imagine, widescreen cinematography and sumptuous color were powerful draws
in that era before home theater, 500 cable channels, and streaming video. The TV set in your living room would only
pick up three or four stations at best on a small black-and-white screen. A night out at the movies in CinemaScope and
air conditioning was a big treat for most families. Talk about a lost world. Ten-year-olds were further primed by a Dell
movie-tie-in comic book with its cover photo of a fearsome giant reptile
emerging from a sinister fog: “Fantastic
adventures of an expedition to a lost land of prehistoric animals and fierce
enticements worked and Allen’s movie did good business, but its reviews failed
to match its commercial success. The
critics, who had little use for science fiction anyway in that era before the
genre became big entertainment business, derided nearly every aspect of the
film. Some of their points were
valid. By filming on studio backlots and
using stock footage to cut costs, Allen compromised the classy value of Winton
Hoch’s expansive widescreen cinematography. The script by Allen and his frequent collaborator, one-time Alfred Hitchcock
scenarist Charles Bennett, leaned heavily on conventional Hollywood plot
elements to pad out Conan Doyle’s rousing but rather dramatically thin source
material. Those might not have been
serious liabilities five or ten years earlier, but Hollywood was already moving
in the direction of greater realism, at least in terms of filming in authentic
exotic locations rather than a sound stage. Most small-town audiences probably didn’t care, but their comments
didn’t enter the permanent record. The
newspaper and magazine reviews did. Today, compared with the level of lifelike detail that modern CGI can
produce, the sets look even cruder in the jungle scenes.
for special effects purists, Allen dashed hopes that the movie would employ the
magic of stop-motion animation that had distinguished First National Pictures’
original, silent-screen version of “The Lost World” in 1925. Instead, as another way to save money and
time, the production substituted tricked-out lizards for the ingenious,
articulated model dinosaurs that Willis O’Brien had built and animated for the
1925 film. O’Brien was credited as a
“technical expert” for the 1960 film, but the work really was done by Fox’s
in-house team of L.B. Abbott, James B. Gordon, and Emil Kosa Jr. When “The Lost World” ran on TV from the
late 1960s through the ‘80s, it suffered even further: pan-and-scan conversion
ruined Hoch’s cinematography and made the artificiality of the sets even more
apparent. It didn’t help that Allen
recycled footage from the movie for his TV series “Voyage to the Bottom of the
Sea” (1964-68) and “The Time Tunnel” (1966-67). The practice confirmed Allen’s critical reputation as a crass
penny-pincher and may have conflated the movie with those childish TV shows in
the film, scientist George Edward Challenger (Claude Rains) returns from an
expedition to the wilds of the upper Amazon, where he claims to have found an
isolated plateau on which dinosaurs have survived into the present. Not having any physical or photographic proof
(his photos were lost when his canoe overturned on the return trip), and
already regarded by his staid colleagues as an egotistical gadfly, he is met
with disbelief. He proposes to launch a
return expedition, joined by his skeptical rival Professor Summerlee (Richard Haydn)
and globe-trotting sportsman Lord John Roxton (Michael Rennie). As a condition for financing the quest,
newspaper magnate Stuart Holmes (John Graham) coerces Challenger into taking
star reporter Ed Malone (David Hedison) along. Malone will file breaking-news dispatches on the way to the Amazon and
beyond -- a prescient 1960 version of today’s reality TV and real-time internet
coverage of sensational “infotainment.”
to South America, as represented by the actors in close-up looking out of airplane
windows at spectacular stock aerial footage of lush jungles and cascading
waterfalls, the expedition reaches an outpost where they are met by guide Costa
(Jay Novello) and helicopter pilot Gomez (Fernando Lamas). They also have two unwelcome additions. Holmes’ daughter Jennifer (Jill St. John),
has impulsively jetted over without parental knowledge to join her boyfriend
Roxton, accompanied by her brother David (Ray Stricklyn). From the outpost, Gomez’ chopper ferries the
explorers to the lost plateau. There, a
dinosaur wrecks the helicopter, stranding them. After adventures with other dinos, giant spiders, and man-eating venus
fly-traps and voracious creeper vines, they are captured by a tribe of
cannibals. A gorgeous native girl
(Vitina Marcus) helps them escape through the perils of the Graveyard of the
Damned and the Lake of Fire (did Lucas and Spielberg see this movie as teens
and take notes?). There’s a subplot
about a dark secret in Roxton’s recent past and a hunt for diamonds, leading to
a confrontation with one of his fellow travelers in a grotto where a gunshot
rouses another dinosaur, which eats the most expendable character in the
cast. Getting rid of the monster by
dumping a cascade of lava on it, the survivors flee the plateau just before the
magma sets off a volcanic explosion.
novel and the 1925 movie ended with Challenger taking a dinosaur back to
London, where the creature escapes and causes panic (in the book, a
pterodactyl, in the silent film, a Willis O’Brien T-Rex). Allen, in another cost-conscious move (or did
he have thoughts about a sequel?), ends with a baby T-Rex, actually a gecko,
hatching from an egg, and Challenger jovially promising to take it back as
proof for skeptics.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Shout! Factory:
Robin Hood. Wealthy man of mystery.
Debonair rogue. Call Simon Templar what you will, but never cross The Saint.
A timeless figure of adventure since his creation by Leslie Charteris in 1928, The
Saint has thrilled adventure aficionados with his exploits in a variety of
media, including novels, movies, and radio—but nowhere was the dashing Mr.
Templar more indelibly realized than in his 1960s television series, presented
here in one outstanding collection: The Saint: The Complete Series. Fans of the dashing spy will finally be able to
revisit his adventures with the release of The
Saint: The Complete Series on DVD from Timeless Media Group, a division of
Shout! Factory, LLC.
the first time as a complete series, the 33-DVD box set features all 118
episodes of the classic espionage show, including first 71 episodes of the
series in black & white and the subsequent 47 episodes in their original
full color presentation. The Saint: The Complete Series also comes loaded with bonus features
previously unavailable in North American releases, including the featurette Behind the
Scenes with Sir Roger Moore as Director as well as audio commentaries on
select episodes with members of the cast and crew, including Sir Roger Moore,
Executive Producer Robert S. Baker, Associate Producer Johnny Goodman and more!
perfectly-cast Roger Mooreas Simon Templar, The Saint was not
only a benchmark in the lifespan of the character, but a stepping stone to
Moore taking on the role of an even more well-known man of action later in his
career. The Saint: The Complete Series
features superb guest stars including Oliver Reed (Tommy, Gladiator), Academy
Award-winning actress Julie Christie (Darling, Doctor Zhivago), Donald
Sutherland (The Dirty Dozen), Edward Woodward (“The Equalizer”) a bevy
of Bondian beauties (Goldfinger’s Honor Blackman and Shirley Eaton, as
well as Lois “Miss Moneypenny” Maxwell), and many more.
The Saint: The Complete Series Bonus
·Audio commentary on select episodes:
o“The Talented Husband” – Roger Moore,
Robert S. Baker (Executive Producer) and Johnny Goodman (Associate Producer)
o“The Saint Plays With Fire” – Roger
Moore, Robert S. Baker (Executive Producer) and Johnny Goodman (Associate Producer)
o“Luella” – Director Roy Ward Backer and
guest star Sue Lloyd
o“The Saint Bids Diamonds” - Roger
Moore, Robert S. Baker (Executive Producer) and guest star Eunice Gayson
o“The Happy Suicide” – Jane Merrow
o“Escape Route” - Roger Moore, Robert S.
Baker (Executive Producer) and Peter Manley (Production Supervisor)
o“The House on Dragon’s Rock” – guest
star Annette Andre
o“The Ex-King Of Diamonds” - Roger
Moore, Robert S. Baker (Executive Producer)
o“Vendetta For The Saint” - Roger Moore,
Robert S. Baker (Executive Producer), and Johnny Goodman (Associate Producer)
·Behind the Scenes with Sir Roger Moore as Director featurette
About Timeless Media Group
Media Group, a division of Shout! Factory, LLC, produces and distributes a
variety of home entertainment products, including classic television
programming, first run movies and its own award-winning military history
documentaries, along with an extensive offering of special interest DVD and
Blu-ray™ collections. Visit timelessvideo.com.
Vinegar Syndrome continues to unearth obscure erotic movies from decades past and manages to infuse new life to them. That may not make the people who participated in them very happy but for the sizable audience devoted to retro erotica, this is manna from Heaven. One of the recent releases is also one of the strangest. Billed on the DVD sleeve as "The Flying Acquaintances", this 1973 bares the title of "The Acquaintances" on the print that the DVD was mastered from. A perusal of the bonus publicity materials indicates it was also marketed as "The Sensuous Stewardesses." Bizarrely, the film opens with a syrupy love song crooned by a Jack Jones wanna be. How this pertains to the scenario of the film itself remains a mystery. The nominal plot (such as it is) concerns a bank teller, Max (future porn superstar Jamie Gillis) who makes ends meet by moonlighting as a taxi driver in New York City. In reality, he has other reasons for this secondary job. Seems Max has an enviable ability to get female passengers in bed. All the while, he assures his wife that he is remaining faithful. In the first scene, Max picks up a stewardess at the airport and drives her home. She invites him in and tells him she doesn't have enough money for the fare but she will be happy to work it off in "trade". Max accepts, thereby leading to one of the longest and most boring sex scenes ever filmed. Not helping matters is the fact that the movie is softcore. There is plenty of female full frontal nudity but the film still balks when it comes to having the guys go Full Monty. While the stewardess is screaming in passion, the scene cuts to the apartment next door where a sexually frustrated wife is trying unsuccessfully to arouse her construction worker husband. (We know he's a construction worker because he wears his hard hat at home.) Turned on by the shrieks of joy coming from the next apartment, the wife strips naked but all her hubby wants to do is drink beer, eat chicken and watch some mindless action movie on TV. Whatever amusement this scenario might have provided is not only beaten to death, it's then disinterred, abused and buried again. The seemingly endless sequence will have your mind drifting to more erotic thoughts such as what groceries you need to add to your shopping list. Another scenario finds a young Frenchman in New York who is seduced by a comely young woman. In yet another vignette, a young male virgin is seduced by a cougar who gets it on with her girlfriend to ensure he enjoys the experience. A common theme throughout centers on frustrated women trying to entice largely passive males.
What is remarkable about this film is that it seems dated even for 1973. By then, softcore was out and hardcore was in. The film seems to be from an era where people had to get watching those old "nudist" documentaries. It is as close to hardcore as you can get, but even by porn standards, the production lacks imagination or skill in terms of execution. There are redeeming factors, however. For one, the Vinegar Syndrome restoration is highly impressive. Second, the film has a great deal of on location scenery. If you enjoy seeing New York during this time frame, the film offers a cornucopia of great images including Columbus Circle and Times Square. For those of you who like to spot retro movie marquees, it's probably buying the DVD for that purpose alone. In slowing down the frames, I spotted some great ones: "Prime Cut" playing side by side with "The Godfather" at the old Loews State in Times Square; "The Sorry and the Pity" at the Paris Theatre and other 42nd Street marquees featuring "Hannie Caulder", "The Legend of Nigger Charlie", "The Possession of Joel Delaney" and many more.
The movie includes some photos in a still gallery and the original trailer.
In days of old before every movie released was designed to be a record-breaking blockbuster, studios routinely produced modestly-budgeted fare designed for a quick playoff and modest profit. A perfect example of this is "Quick, Before It Melts!", a softball sex comedy from 1964 that must have been considered to be a bit risque in its day. Although George Maharis, then a current heart throb gets first billing, the real star is Robert Morse. He plays Oliver Cromwell Cannon, an aspiring reporter who is routinely abused by his boss, publishing magnate Harvey T. Sweigert (Howard St. John), who considers Oliver to be so inconsequential that he has to be reminded that he is engaged to his daughter Sharon (Yvonne Craig). Oliver's career is on the fast track to nowhere until Sweigert affords him an opportunity to prove himself. He is being assigned as the first staff reporter at the South Pole and will be stationed at a U.S. Navy weather installation there. Sweigert is to the political right of Sen. Joe McCarthy and sees Soviet expansion everywhere, even in the remote frozen tundras. Sweigert gives Oliver the seemingly impossible task of digging up some sort of scoop that would embarrass the Soviets. Accompanying Oliver is Peter Santelli (George Maharis), an ace photographer who is also a renowned ladies man.
Prior to leaving, Oliver visits Sharon and does his best to seduce her. She's a virgin on the verge but insists on waiting until their wedding night, much to Oliver's frustration. En route to the South Pole, Oliver and Peter have an extended stopover in New Zealand. Here they befriend two lovely young ladies- Tiara (Anjanette Comer in her big screen debut), an exotic beauty and her equally sexy friend Diana (Janine Gray). Both of the women are the polar opposite (pardon the pun) of Sharon, and they have liberated attitudes towards sex. Peter falls for Diana and Oliver is immediately smitten by Tiara. A running gag in the film is Oliver's inability to get her to tell him if they slept together during one particularly wild night in which he became so drunk he developed amnesia. Soon Oliver is a conflicted man. He wants to remain loyal to Sharon but boys will be boys and his hormones are raging. Fate intervenes when Sweigert insists they leave immediately for the South Pole. Upon arriving at the naval station, Oliver and Peter are hit with the stark reality of how unpleasant life is about to become. Enclosed in the small confines of the base with 50 below zero temperatures outside, they find themselves subjected to hazing rituals by the longtime staffers. The base is manned by Navy personnel as well as a contingent of scientists that includes Mikhail Drozhensky, a Soviet representative of a joint scientific research project. As the days turn to weeks, boredom becomes a problem and Sweigert is getting impatient for Oliver to file some type of scoop. With everyone on the base suffering from sexual frustration, Oliver and Peter con a visiting admiral (James Gregory) to get some good press by inviting down a contingent of everyday women to visit the base. Naturally, they arrange for Tiara and Diana to be among them. Upon arrival, Oliver's hormones win out and he starts to seduce the willing Tiara in a snowmobile (talk about sexual frigidity!). This leads to another running gag that must have been old in Shakespeare's day: every time they come close to consummating the deal, some distraction interrupts them. Naturally, the women become stranded at the base due to weather and the sexual high jinks continue. Peter isn't having any problem with Diana but fate prevents Oliver from sealing the deal with Tiara. The conclusion of the story has Oliver trying to file a career-saving scoop about the Soviet scientist defecting before his arch rival reporter (Norman Fell) can beat him to it.
"Quick, Before It Melts" is the kind of mid-range movie that defines mediocrity. It has a good cast but most of them are encouraged to overact by director Delbert Mann, who once directed such estimable fare as "Marty" and "Separate Tables". What led him to become involved in this drivel remains a mystery. Even more bizarre is that the screenplay was written by Dale Wasserman. Yes, that Dale Wasserman- the acclaimed writer of "Man of La Mancha" and the stage version of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The film has some amusing gags including composer David Rose finding a way to insert his signature song "The Stripper" into the action. Morse is an energetic leading man but his character inexplicably morphs from Jerry Lewis nerd mode into a sophisticated Sinatra type by the end of the film. Anjanette Comer does make for a stunningly beautiful leading lady and the equally lovely Yvonne Craig gives her usual perky performance. Popular character Bernard Fox, who generally epitomizes every old fashioned cliche about the British, is bizarrely cast as a U.S. naval officer. Go figure. The film is marred by some poor rear screen projection work. The long shots were filmed by a second unit near the Bering Sea but anyone above the age of five will recognize that the closest the cast members got to something cold was an ice cream sundae at the studio commissary.
"Quick, Before It Melts" has been released as a Warner Archive title. The transfer is excellent. There are no bonus extras but the disc is region free.
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of Harry in Your Pocket, a largely unheralded 1973 comedy/drama that finds James Coburn well-cast as a debonair "king of the pickpockets". Along with his partner, the elderly but equally charismatic Casey (Walter Pidgeon), Harry is intent on recruiting a couple of newcomers to train as part of an ambitious pickpocket team. He settles on Ray (Michael Sarrazin) and his new girlfriend Sandy (comely Trish Van Devere), a destitute couple that is eager to learn from the master. After some rough edges in the "training", Ray and Sandy earn their keep by helping Harry set up the sting operations. Casey decides who will be the victim, Sandy distracts that person while Harry robs his wallet, then quickly passes it off to Ray. Harry's golden rule is "Harry doesn't hold", meaning he is never in possession of the incriminating loot for more than the few seconds it takes to pass it off to his accomplice.Life with Harry is good. The team travels extensively and everything is first class. However, it isn't long before Ray suspects that his real value to the team is the fact that he is accompanied by Sandy, who Harry clearly has eyes for. Soon, sexual tension threatens to disrupt the profitable partnership.
It may seem that a film about pick-pocketing might be a complete yawn. Indeed, there isn't much that happens in terms of plot and the movie relies almost entirely on the chemistry between cast members. Fortunately, everyone is at the top of their game. Coburn is charismatic and charming, but has a hard, threatening edge that makes it clear Harry is man who is used to getting things his way. It's top flight Coburn, in terms of performance and he's well-matched by Sarrazin and Van Devere, who gets to wear some eye-popping mini-skirts to distract the potential victims. The most kudos, however, go to Pidgeon in a wonderful late career performance. As the erudite, dapper and coke-sniffing thief, he dominates every sequence- especially when he opines about the lack of a code of honor that used to be prevalent among people of his peculiar trade.
This is the only feature film ever directed by Bruce Geller, best known as the creator and chief writer for the Mission: Impossible TV series. He handles the action well and capitalizes on lush location shooting in Seattle, Victoria, BC and Salt Lake City, all set to a funky Lalo Schifrin score. If there is one dismaying aspect to the movie, it's the fact that, unlike most films and TV series about charismatic con-men from The Sting to Hustle, the victims here are not corrupt executives and politicians, but everyday working people. It's hard to cheer on the protagonists when they are depriving the guy next door of his week's wages. Nevertheless, Harry in Your Pocket is a forgotten gem of film and well worth catching up with.
Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff collectively made countless films that varied widely in terms of quality. However, they always brought dignity to every role they performed. Sadly, the two icons of the horror film genre only worked together twice.The first time in the late 1950s in "Corridors of Blood" and the second and last time in what turned out to be the final film of Karloff's career, the 1968 Tigon Films production of "The Crimson Cult" (released in the UK as "Curse of the Crimson Altar" and in some territories as "The Crimson Altar" and "Black Horror"). Karloff barely got through the arduous shoot during a particularly cold and unpleasant British winter. However, always the ultimate professional, he persevered and continued the film until completion, even after having been hospitalized with pneumonia. The result is a film that is not particularly well-loved by horror film fans but which this writer enjoyed immensely on my first viewing, which came courtesy of the Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Perhaps the film looked better to me than it should have. It's got some loose plot points and the production doesn't fully utilize the skills of it's marvelous cast, which includes character actor Michael Gough and the iconic Barbara Steele. However, given the fact that we don't get lineups of great stars like this any more, I found the entire movie to be a joy to watch (despite of- or perhaps because of- it's sometimes blatant exploitation scenes.)
Things get off to a rather rollicking start with the very first frames of the movie which depict a woman clad only in leather panties and pasties who is mercilessly whipping another sexy young woman who is chained to an altar in a dungeon-like environment. Watching the action is Peter Manning (Denys Peek), who we learn is a respected antiques dealer who runs a high end shop with his brother Robert (Mark Eden). Peter looks completely out of place in this S&M scenario, even more so when we see the others who are witnessing what becomes evident as a Satanic Black Mass ceremony, which is taking place amid other scantily-clad men and women. Peter is approached by an exotic beauty who we will later learn is the reincarnation of a notorious witch named Lavinia, who was executed by local villagers a few centuries ago. As played by real life exotic beauty Barbara Steele in a largely wordless role, the character exudes both danger and sexual deviancy. She insists that Peter sign an ancient ledger after which he is given a dagger which he uses to promptly murder the young woman who is chained to the table.
The scene then switches to the antique shop where we find Robert concerned about his brother's whereabouts. He tells his secretary that Peter had gone to search for antiques for a few days in the remote rural village of Greymarsh, which coincidentally is the ancestral home of the Manning family. The only clue he has to his brother's movements is a cryptic note he had written to Robert from a manor house in the village. Robert decides to visit the house to see if he can trace Peter's location. Naturally, he chooses to arrive at the place in the dead of night and finds the villagers are engaged in riotous celebrations for an annual festival that rather tastelessly celebrates the execution of witches in a bygone era. The locals playfully recreate pagan rituals including the execution of an effigy of Lavinia. Arriving at Greymarsh Manor, Robert finds a wild party underway with a group of young people in an orgy-like state. The girls are pouring champagne over their nearly naked bodies and there are "cat fights" intermingled with lovemaking. Robert is understandably amused and fascinated. He makes the acquaintance of Eve (Virginia Wetherell), a fetching blonde with a flirtatious nature who informs him that she is the niece of the manor's owner, a sophisticated and erudite man named Morley, who greets Robert warmly but denies any knowledge of his brother. Morley says that he can't explain how Robert received a note from Peter on Greymarsh Manor stationary but nevertheless invites Robert to stay a few days at the manor while he continues his investigation. Predictably, Robert and Eve form a romantic bond in short order and she assists him in his efforts to find Peter. Meanwhile, Robert is introduced to Professor John Marsh (Boris Karloff), an elderly, wheelchair-bound academic who is the village's most prominent local historian. Fittingly, he is also a collector of ancient torture devices.
Most of the film centers on Robert and Eve attempting to track down Peter's doings in the village and his present whereabouts. It becomes pretty obvious that either Morley and/or Marsh are hiding some explosive secrets. The only question for the viewer is whether one or both of them have been complicit in Peter's vanishing. Robert's stay at the manor house is decidedly mixed experience for him. In the evenings he gets to enjoy rare, expensive liquors as he sits around chatting with Morley and Marsh. He also gets a willing bed mate in Eve. However, he is terrified by recurring nightmares that find him in the midst of a Black Mass ceremony where he finds his brother. In these bizarre dreams, Lavinia insists that Robert sign the ancient ledger, as Peter did, but Robert steadfastly refuses because he believes he will be murdered once he does. Robert discovers that his arm has been seriously cut by a knife- a key part of his nightmare. He thus begins to suspect that these aren't dreams at all, but real experiences that are taking place when he is in drugged condition. A trail of clues leads to some red herrings until Robert and Eve discover that the manor house has a hidden room where it is apparent Satanic ritual ceremonies are taking place. From that point, key plot devices begin to fall into place with a few minor surprises along the way. The movie is a great deal of fun from start to finish and seeing both Lee and Karloff on screen together is a real treat. Michael Gough makes welcome frequent appearances as an Igor-like butler who tries to warn Robert about the dangers of staying at Greymarsh Manor and Rupert Davies has a nice cameo as the local vicar. A few other observations: Virginia Wetherell is a first rate leading lady in this type of genre film so the fact that she never achieved greater name recognition seems unjust. Also the production design is first rate, as it generally is in British horror movies of this period. Kudos also to veteran director Vernon Sewell who crafts a consistently interesting film from a script that has some loose ends and weak plot points. He also has to contend with a good amount of T&A that seems to be inserted largely for exploitation reasons. The film's dramatic conclusion is meant to be intriguing and ambiguous but comes across as somewhat unsatisfying. However, in the aggregate, the movie is a great deal of fun- largely due to the presence of Lee, Karloff and Steele.
The film has been released by Kino Lorber as a Blu-ray special edition under its American title. The company has wisely ported over some of the content of special bonus materials that were available on a previous UK-only Blu-ray edition. These include a wonderful commentary track with Barbara Steele and well-known horror film historian David Del Valle, who has also produced a number of documentaries. Del Valle is uniquely suited to conduct the discussion of the film, as he personally knew many of the legendary figures of the horror film genre and his knowledge is encyclopedic. He and Steele have a good rapport because they are old friends. Both of them, however, denounce the movie because of its missed opportunities. The main criticisms revolve around the misuse of Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff in their only film together. Del Valle feels that there isn't much for them to do other than sit around parlors sipping drinks. He points out that this was Karloff's last film and he was in poor health during its production, yet was valiant enough to complete filming- and insist that a scene be rewritten so he could rise from his wheelchair, an act of defiance and courage considering his fragile state. Steele bemoans the fact that the screenwriters didn't allow her character to share any scenes with either Lee or Karloff, although she did spend time with them off set and clearly adored both men. However, the way the story is structured simply wouldn't allow the three characters to interact without fundamentally changing the story. One can understand Steele's frustrations as an actress, however, in not having the opportunity to share screen time with these cinematic legends. Del Valle also dismisses leading man Mark Eden (who resembles young George Lazenby) as a lightweight, a charge that seems debatable. I personally found Eden to be a likable and charismatic leading man. Both Del Valle and Steele acknowledge the film has some merits but you'd barely know it by the time they get done slicing it up scene by scene. Steele also provides some very interesting discussions about her non-horror films including quitting the production of "Flaming Star" in which she was Elvis Presley's leading lady. She also discusses her work with Fellini. In all, I found myself not agreeing with Steele and Del Valle's overall assessment of "The Crimson Cult" but I did find this to be an excellent commentary track, filled with wonderful anecdotes.
Barbara Steele as Lavinia, The Black Witch of Greymarsh.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains other bonus extras. The most interesting is an interview with composer Kendall Schmidt, who relates why he receives screen credit for the musical score in the video versions of the film. (Peter Knight is still the composer of record on the theatrical prints.) Schmidt, who is now a well-regarded photographer, relates that when Orion acquired video rights to the American International Pictures library in the mid-1980s, there were many films they could not secure the music rights to. Thus, Schmidt, who was a 24 year old starving composer, was hired to re-score these films. In some cases, he emulated the original composer's scores while in most other cases he created wholly original compositions. His score suits this film well but, not having seen the theatrical version, I can't compare his work with Peter Knight's. The Blu-ray also includes both the U.S. and British trailers with their respective title differences.
It should be pointed out that the picture quality of this release is as close to perfect as you can get. Colors practically leap off the screen and the transfer does full justice to the production design. In all, I found this to be a first rate release of an extremely underrated film from the "Golden Age" of British horror productions.
Released in 1966, producer Ivan Tors' Around the World Under the Sea seemed at first blush like an exercise in stunt casting: cobble together some contemporary TV favorites into a feature film and have MGM and Tors divvy up the profits. However, that perception would be entirely wrong. While the film did boast some popular TV stars in leading roles, the film itself is an intelligent adventure flick, well acted and very competently directed by old hand Andrew Marton. The film stars Lloyd Bridges (only a few years out of Sea Hunt), Brian Kelly (star of Flipper), Daktari lead Marshall Thompson and Man From U.N.C.L.E. David McCallum. Veteran supporting actors Keenan Wynn and Gary Merrill are also prominently featured and Shirley Eaton, riding her fame from Goldfinger, has the only female role in this macho male story line.
The plot finds a team of leading scientists who come together to install earthquake warning sensors on seabeds around the world. The risky mission is undertaken in the Hydronaught, a nuclear-powered state of the art submarine/science lab capable of operating at the ocean's greatest depths. The physical dangers are only part of the frustrations the team has to cope with. The presence of Eaton, as a drop-dead gorgeous scientist, on board the confined all-male environment leads to inevitable jealousies and sexual tensions. (Although Tors specialized in family entertainment, even he couldn't resist a most welcome, completely gratuitous sequence in which Eaton swims around underwater in a bikini.) Unlike many films aimed at kids, Around the World Under the Sea boasts a highly intelligent screenplay that has much appeal to older audiences. The heroes are refreshingly human: they bicker, they panic and they make costly mistakes in judgment. Bridges is the stalwart, no-nonsense leader of the group, Kelly is his ill-tempered second-in-command who tries unsuccessfully to resist Eaton's charms, Wynn is his trademark crusty-but-loveable eccentric character. McCallum's Phil Volker is the most nuanced of the characters. A brilliant scientist, he can only be persuaded to join the life-saving mission by making demands based on his own personal profit. He also allows a brief flirtation with Eaton to preoccupy him to the point of making an error that could have fatal consequences for all aboard. Each of the actors gets a chance to shine with the exception of Thompson, whose role is underwritten. The scene stealers are McCallum and Wynn, who engage in some amusing one-upmanship in the course of playing a protracted chess game. However, one is also impressed by Kelly's screen presence. He could have had a successful career as a leading man were it not for injuries he sustained in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. (Partially paralyzed, Kelly went on to serve as producer on a number of successful film including Blade Runner.)
The film benefits from some wonderful underwater photography shot in the Bahamas, Florida and the Great Barrier Reef - all the result of a collaborative effort between the three top underwater filmmakers of the period: Jordan Klein, Ricou Browning and Lamar Boren. Although the special effects were modestly achieved, they hold up quite well today. Marton wrings some legitimate suspense out of several crisis situations including an encounter with a giant eel and a Krakatoa-like earthquake that almost spells doom for our heroes. How they escape is cleverly and convincingly played out. The movie also has a lush score by Harry Sukman (we'll leave it to you to pronounce his last name.)
Warner Archive's widescreen hi def presentation is available for viewing on the Warner Archive streaming service. Click here to access the site. (Subscription required).
CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE DVD FROM AMAZON, WHICH ALSO INCLUDES AN ORIGINAL PRODUCTION FEATURETTE AND TRAILER.
It's easy to look back on the Blaxploitation film craze of the 1970s as a short-lived period that spawned some cinematic guilty pleasures. However, time has been kind to the genre and if retro movie buffs view some of the films that emerged during this era they will undoubtedly find more artistry at work than was originally realized. Case in point: "Truck Turner", a 1974 action flick released at the height of the Blaxploitation phenomenon. I had never seen the film prior to its release on the new Blu-ray special edition from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. It's a violent, brutal film filled with ugly characters and "heroes" who deserve that moniker only because they aren't quite as abhorrent as the cutthroat antagonists they face. Yet, there is something special about "Truck Turner". Amid the carnage and frequent, extended action sequences, there is real talent at work here. Most of it belongs to Jonathan Kaplan, the director who had recently emerged as yet another promising protege of Roger Corman. In fact, Kaplan had just recently completed filming another Blaxploitation film, "The Slams" with Jim Brown, before being drafted into "Truck Turner". The idea of a white, Jewish guy directing a Blaxploitation film may seem weird today but at the time, most of the creative forces behind these movies were white guys, an indication of just how few opportunities existed in Hollywood for black filmmakers in the 1970s. The movies were also largely financed by white studio executives who benefited the most financially. Yet, it cannot be denied that the genre went a long way in opening doors for a lot of talented black actors and musicians, who often provided the scores for the films. Until the release of "Shaft" in 1971 (which was directed by a black filmmaker, Gordon Parks), most of the action roles for black characters seemed to be hanging on the durable shoulders of Sidney Poitier, Jim Brown, Harry Belafonte and the great character actor Woody Strode. Suddenly, there were a great number of opportunities for black actors and actresses to display their talents on screen. The vehicles in which they toiled were often low-budget potboilers, but it did increase their visibility and name recognition. More importantly, black action characters became commonplace henceforth.
"Truck Turner" has emerged as a genuine cult movie in the decades since its initial release. The movie's oddball appeal begins with the casting of the titular character, who is played by legendary soul musician Isaac Hayes in his screen debut. While Laurence Olivier probably never lost sleep over Hayes's decision to enter the movie business, his casting was a stroke of genius on the part of the executives at American International Pictures, which specialized in exploitation films for the grindhouse and drive-in audiences. Hayes had recently won the Academy Award for his funky "Theme From 'Shaft'" and had an imposing and super-cool physical presence. He also proved to be a natural in front of the camera. His emotional range was limited but he exuded an arrogance and self-confidence that the role required. Turner is a skip tracer/bounty hunter employed by a bail bond agency in the slum area of Los Angeles. A stunning opening shot finds literally dozens of such agency dotting the urban landscape- an indication of how out of control crime was in the city during this period. Turner and his partner Jerry (Alan Weeks) agree to take on an assignment to track down a local notorious pimp and crime kingpin named 'Gator' Johnson (Paul Harris), who has skipped bail, thus leaving the agency's owner Nate Dinwiddle (Sam Laws) on the hook for the money. Turner and Jerry pursue 'Gator' in one of those requisite high octane car chases that were seemingly mandatory in 70s action movies. This one is quite spectacular and features some dazzling stunt driving. 'Gator' is ultimately killed by Turner and this leads to the main plot, which concerns his lover, Dorinda (Nichelle Nichols). She was 'Gator's partner in a lucrative prostitution business. The two pimped out beautiful young women who they keep as virtual prisoners on a large estate. Dorinda is the Captain Bligh of madams, routinely abusing her stable of girls and demeaning them at every opportunity. She is enraged by Turner's slaying of 'Gator' and offers a bounty for his murder: half of her stake in the prostitution ring. The offer draws more than a few professional assassins to her doorstep, all of whom promise they can kill Turner. However, the only one who seems to have the ability to do so is Harvard Blue (Yaphet Kotto), a soft-spoken but vicious crime boss who would like nothing more than to make easy money from a major pimping operation. With a small army of assassins, he sets out to make good on his promise to kill Turner.
Like most action movies of this genre, the plot points are predictable. As with Charles Bronson's character in the "Death Wish" films, virtually every person who befriends Turner comes to great misfortune. This kind of predictable emotional manipulation is par for the course when you're watching 70s crime films and doesn't overshadow the fact that there is a great deal of style evident in "Truck Turner". The dialogue is saucy and witty. For example, Dorinda describes one of her "girls" as "Kentucky Fried Chicken" because "she's finger-lickin' good!" and another as "Turnpike" because "you have to pay to get on and pay to get off." If you think that's politically incorrect, consider that every other line of dialogue has somebody calling somebody else a nigger. Then there's the character of Truck Turner, who - like his fellow cinematic tough ass crime fighters of the era ranging from Dirty Harry to 'Popeye' Doyle to John Wayne's McQ- seems oblivious to the fact that he is endangering an abundance of innocent people in his obsession to get the bad guys. Turner engages in carjacking and threatens the lives of people who he feels aren't cooperating fast enough. He also has a sensitive side, though, as we see in his scenes with the love of his life, Annie (Annazette Chase). She's recently completed a jail term and only wants to settle down with Turner to live a quiet, normal lifestyle. Good luck. When the contract is put out on Turner, she becomes a potential victim and is terrorized by Harvard Blue and his gang. The film concludes with some terrific action sequences, the best of which has Hayes and Kotto going mano-a-mano inside the corridors of a hospital. They chase and spray bullets at each other amid terrified patients in wheelchairs and on gurneys and in one scene, carry the shoot out into an operating room with doctors in the midst of working on a patient! The finale, which centers on Kotto's last scene in the movie, is shot with such style that it almost approaches being (dare I use the term?) poetic. The supporting cast is first rate with Alan Weeks scoring strongly as Robin to Turner's Batman. Annazette Chase is excellent as the ever-patient object of Turner's desire and, of course, Kotto is terrific, as usual, managing to steal scenes in his own unique, low-key way. The most enjoyable performance comes from Nichelle Nichols, who is 180 degrees from her "Star Trek" role. As the ultimate villainess, she seems to be having a blast insulting and threatening everyone in her line of vision. Her final confrontation with Turner makes for a memorable screen moment, to say the least.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is up to the company's usual high standards in all respects. Old Truck never looked better on screen and there are some welcome bonus materials. Director Kaplan provides a witty and highly informative audio commentary, relating how American International was more interested in the soundtrack album they would be able to market than the film itself. (Hayes provides the impressive score for the film, including some "Shaft"-like themes.). He also said that he was originally drawn to the project because he was told the film would star either Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine or Robert Mitchum! Nevertheless, he speaks with great affection for Hayes and his colleagues and points out various character actors his used in the film including the ubiquitous Dick Miller, James Millhollin, Scatman Crothers and even Matthew Beard, who played "Stymie" in the Our Gang comedies. Another welcome bonus is director Joe Dante,obviously an admirer of the film, in discussion at a 2008 screening of "Truck Turner" at the New Beverly Cinema in L.A. He's joined by director Kaplan and stuntman Bob Minor. The reaction of the audience indicates this film enjoys a loyal following. There is also a segment from Dante's popular "Trailers From Hell" web site that features director Ernest Dickerson introducing and narrating the original trailer for the film. The trailer is also included in the Blu-ray, as well as a double feature radio spot ad for "Truck Turner" and Pam Grier as "Foxy Brown". In all, an irresistible release for all retro movie lovers.
recently I had been woefully ignorant of professional pornography from the
1970's but thanks to Vinegar Syndrome I am undergoing what might be considered
a master class in the genre. Their latest release to attract my attention is A
Saint... A Woman... A Devil... (1977) which has to qualify as one of the more
ambitious of its type I have eyer seen. This film is nothing short of an
attempt to use The Three Faces of Eve (1957) as the template story but taking
the material to places that Hollywood classic would never have dreamed. After
all, what better reason for a fractured personality than shameful feelings of
lust? And what better scenario than a main character that engages in sex with
multiple partners but then cannot remember those encounters? Ah, only in the
(Joanna Bell) hasn't been well since the recent deaths of her parents but she
appears to be doing just fine when her cousin Toby (Pamela Serpe) drops in
accompanied by her school roommate Sheila (Helen Madigan) for a holiday visit. The
shocked Toby discovers Sylvia on the living room floor with a door to door vacuum
cleaner salesman engaged in a bit more than a demonstration of just his
product's abilities. Toby doesn't understand what is going on because her
cousin has always been a mousy, boring and even religious person - not one that
would seduce a stranger in her own home! So, when the two visiting ladies
return later to make their presence known to Sylvia they find her praying at a
living room altar and she tells Toby about her current medical problems. It
seems that her doctor thinks her recent migraines and blackouts are
psychological rather than physical in nature but roommate Sheila isn't buying
any of it. She assumes that Sylvia is just a secret swinger and isn't bothered
when Sylvia seduces her on her first night in the house. This lesbian encounter
is done in the butch persona of "Tony" and Shelia is amused by what
she assumes is a sex game.
this time Toby has become convinced that Sylvia's childhood personality problems
have returned but decides to consult a priest rather than a doctor. The cleric
(Armand Peters) suggests it is possible that Sylvia is possessed and relates a
flashback of Sylvia's rape of a seminarian (Grover Griffith) in the church
itself! The religious man wisely recommends
psychoanalysis before ordering an exorcism and Sylvia's psychiatrist Dr. Ballaban
(this film's director Peter Savage) tells Toby that Sylvia has multiple
personalities which range from man-crazy Mona to lesbian Tony and devout but
slightly less repressed Mary. These separate personalities have grown as a
defense mechanism to the childhood abuse she suffered at the hands of her
schizophrenic mother (Helen Devine) who we see abuse Sylvia in more flashbacks.
The doctor decides to use deep hypnosis to try to unify Sylvia's various
personalities but Mona is the most resistant to the treatment because she
believes it will destroy her. Sylvia is completely unaware of her other selves
even though they are all part of her own personality so when Toby tries to
convince Sylvia to see Dr. Ballaban again the Mona personality takes over and
convinces a couple of junkies (Sonny Landham and Guido D'Alisa) to get rid of
the good doc before he can get rid of her.
this sounds pretty crazy then you are on the right track. Besides being a porn
film it also appears to be a bit of a vanity project by writer, director and
co-producer Peter Savage. If you think
he looks familiar you might have seen him in mainstream films such as Martin
Scorsese's Raging Bull or William Lustig’s Vigilante. The Lustig
connection seems to have started with this very film as he serves as the
assistant director and production manger for Savage here, gaining filmmaking
experience along with a number of other New York University film students. This
movie appears to have been one of many projects used to get future filmmakers
into the industry. Indeed, A Saint... A Woman... A Devil... is a technically
well made movie showing that - subject matter aside - these crew people have
the chops to make a good, solid film on a limited budget which Lustig would go
on to prove with his own work. Of course, no 1980's action movie fan can fail
to notice that actor Sonny Landham of 48 HRS and Predator fame is in this film
and he even performs in the hardcore sex scenes. I can't say I ever wanted to
see this but now I have I can inform you that if you feel the need to watch Mr.
Landham in 'action', here is your chance. But if you're like me and can't
imagine wanting to see fairly unattractive people copulate you might want to
give this movie a total pass. I don't mean to be cruel, but none of the cast
members of either gender are very attractive and by the time we are witness to
a fairly impressive home party/suburban orgy the ugliness of the people
onscreen had become noticeable enough to be a problem. I mean- wouldn't there
be some really gorgeous people in any given group of swingers? Or am I living
in a sexual fantasyland as based in reality as Middle Earth? Oh well.... dreams
Syndrome has put A Saint... A Woman... A Devil... out as a standalone release
instead of in their usual porn double feature DVD structure. I would have
thought they would take the opportunity to use the saved space for extras of
some sort as a number of the cast and crew are still around. Then again, they
might not be too keen to discuss this mostly closeted skeleton and wish its
decades old door had remained locked. The only extra is the non-porn R rated
version of the film that simply chops the hardcore sequences out to present a
pretty strange, low budget character study.
Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” drew almost uniformly positive A-list reviews
on its limited theatrical release in December 2014 (to qualify for 2014 Academy
Award nominations), and on its official nationwide release the following
month. Not a surprise: Anderson has been
a darling of critics since “Boogie Nights” (1997), and his script was based on
a 2009 novel by Thomas Pynchon, an academically revered novelist. Box-office wasn’t so hot, though. The gross from the nationwide opening weekend
was $381,000, and the total gross by the end of April only $11.1 million, just
a little more than half the film’s reported budget. Observers theorized that the film was sunk
by Pynchon’s perplexing, labyrinthine
storyline about a pothead private eye in a Cinema Retro setting of 1970 Los
Angeles. Well, maybe, but “Chinatown”
(1974) was a commercial success with an equally twisty script, and Ross
Macdonald, the dean of complex PI mysteries, sold well enough that he regularly
made the New York Times bestseller list at the end of his career.
fact, Ross Macdonald and “Chinatown” are two strands of the movie’s DNA, along
with Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” (1939) and “The Long Goodbye” (1954),
the classic movies by Howard Hawks (1946) and Robert Altman (1973) that were
based on the two novels, Roger Simon’s counterculture PI Moses Wine in “The Big
Fix” (1973), turned into a 1978 film with Richard Dreyfuss, and arguably, the
Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski” (1998). Mystery fans may enjoy teasing out the influences. Mainstream viewers may feel like they’ve
already been there, done that.
private eye at the center of Pynchon’s story, Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin
Phoenix), is visited at his beach shack by a former girlfriend, Shasta Fay
Hepworth (Katherine Waterston). Shasta
Fay’s sugar daddy, Mickey Wolfmann, a real estate mogul, has disappeared. Shasta Fay believes that he may have been put
away against his will by his wife Sloane and Sloane’s boyfriend. She asks Doc to investigate. Doing so, the amiable, ambling PI encounters
a series of high-rolling and low-life characters who seem to have little or
nothing in common with each other. With
a little digging, Doc begins to uncover one tenuous thread that seems to
connect most of them, an association with something called “The Golden Fang.” The name may refer to a schooner used to ship
dope from Southeast Asia, a criminal ring that uses the vessel, a fraternity of
dentists, or a secluded sanitarium where Doc has a fleeting encounter with a
spaced-out Mickey, or all of the above. With each character, the name carries a different connotation. When a cute Asian girl in a massage parlor
reveals an important clue to Doc in a foggy alley, veteran mystery fans may
wonder if Pynchon and Anderson are also channeling the venerable pulp trappings
of Sax Rohmer and Fu Manchu.
today’s moviegoers don’t read Chandler or Macdonald, or maybe attention spans
have gotten shorter over the years. Like
their predecessors, Pynchon and Anderson use a variety of tricks to keep
viewers off-balance, principally the relentless introduction of new characters
as suspects and red herrings, to the point that in one brief scene, Doc perplexedly writes all the
names on a wall board and draws lines from one to the other to keep them
straight. However, the ultimate
unraveling of the mystery, when it arrives, seems pretty clear. For a real headscratcher, try Ross
Macdonald’s “The Blue Hammer” (1976) some time.
film’s actual shortcomings lie more with Anderson than Pynchon, including
inconsistent tone, uneven casting, and a decision to use a tired dramatic
device as the way to relate the story -- voiceover narration by one of Doc’s
other pals, trippy astrologer Sortilege (Joanna Newsom). Some critics defended Anderson’s choice as
the only way that the filmmaker could feasibly spoon out chunks of information
that Pynchon conveyed in his novel through the running narrative. But it seems like an easy and lazy out of a
challenge that might have been surmounted in a more dramatically satisfying way
with a little more thought. At that, it
still leaves unexplained some prominent details that were clear in the novel
but hazy in the film. For example, who
is “Aunt Reet,” the eccentric elderly woman from whom Doc mines some basic
intel about Mickey Wolfmann? Played by
an unrecognizable Jeannie Berlin, the character actually is Doc’s aunt, as the
novel explains, but she’s a puzzling cypher in the movie as she comes and goes
in one brief scene. Neither are Doc’s
working quarters in a medical building explained. Is he actually a physician? You have to read the novel to find out why he
operates out of a medical office. I
suspect that these puzzling, unexplained details were actually the main source
of frustration for paying audiences, and not the mystery plot itself.
Phoenix is excellent as Doc, and Josh Brolin is amusing as his requisite cop
nemesis, his performance hovering somewhere between the menacing persona of his
character in “Gangster Squad” (2013) and his straight-faced send-up in “Men in
Black III” (2013). In a bit perhaps
inspired by “L.A. Confidential” (1997), Brolin’s character exploits the LAPD’s
ties with Hollywood to land small roles in Jack Webb’s “Adam-12.” On TV, Doc watches a scene from the old show
in which Brolin is digitally inserted in the background behind Martin
Milner. The film’s best stunt-casting
places Reese Witherspoon as Doc’s occasional playmate, Deputy D.A. Penny
Kimball, and the two have the single best exchange of lines in the film:
Doc: “I need something from you. I need to look at
“That’s it? That’s no big deal. We do it all the time.”
“What? You break into officially sealed
records all the time?”
(casting a jaundiced glance): “Grow up.”
Warner Home Video Blu-ray presents the movie in high-def, richly saturated
color. The special features include
three trailer-style clip compilations, each focused on a specific element of
the movie (paranoia, Shasta Fay, and the Golden Fang). An alternate, unused ending is included in
the fourth feature, “Everything in This Dream.” It hews a little closer to the final chapter
of Pynchon’s novel than the rather pedestrian finale that Anderson decided to
use instead, in which Doc and Shasta Fay sorta get back together. Nevertheless, although closer, it’s still not
up to Pynchon’s lyric, evocative conclusion. The package also contains a DVD version and a digital copy.
In my review of Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release of the 1979 disaster film "Meteor", I observed that the disaster movie genre had peaked with the release of Irwin Allen's "The Towering Inferno" in 1974. Yet, that didn't stop studios from beating a dead horse in an attempt to squeeze some more juice out of the tried-and-true formula of gathering an all-star cast, then figuring out ways to drown, bury or incinerate the characters portrayed on screen. One of the more obscure attempts to keep the disaster film cycle relevant was "Avalanche", a movie produced by Roger Corman and directed and scripted by one of his proteges, Corey Allen, who would go on to establish a respectable career as a director of major television shows. When you approach a Corman production, you tend to give some special dispensation for certain cinematic sins that you wouldn't accord more mainstream productions. Corman, who happily embraces his legendary status as a man who made major profits from films with minor budgets, knew how to stretch the soup in the cinematic sense. Rarely armed with ample production funds, Corman cut corners whenever possible but still managed to retain a certain elegance to his productions. In 1978, he jumped on the fading disaster movie bandwagon with "Avalanche". He hired Rock Hudson as the leading man because Hudson, at this point in his career, realized that he was no longer a hot commodity as a boxoffice draw in feature films (although he did successfully transition to a popular presence on television.) Corman also cast Mia Farrow and respected supporting actor Robert Forster for additional name recognition. He secured permission to film at a major ski resort in Durango, Colorado and out-sourced the special effects work to a company called Excelsior!
The film follows the general formula of the disaster film genre in that the victims-to-be are gathered for a major social occasion, unaware that nature is working overtime to thwart their fun. Rock Hudson plays David Shelby, an arrogant developer who has invested his life savings to build a vacation paradise in the Rocky Mountains. He has disdain for local environmentalists who have warned him that his destruction of an an abundance of trees on his massive property has removed a natural barrier to the inevitable avalanches that will occur. Shelby is preoccupied with his grand opening festivities and is simultaneously trying to woo back his ex-wife Caroline (Mia Farrow), who is attending as his guest. He's also busy trying to entertain his sassy, wise-cracking mother, Florence (Jeanette Nolan), who is being shepherded around the resort by David's major domo Henry McDade (Steve Franken in a rare dramatic role.) Meanwhile, local environmental activist and nature photographer Nick Thorne (Robert Forster) becomes increasingly concerned about the massive buildup of snow on the mountain peaks that are directly in line with the resort. He attempts to alleviate some of the danger by strategically using a snow cannon to set off controlled mini avalanches. Intermingled with all of this are the expected subplots involving minor characters who are set up to be inevitable victims. Barry Primus is a TV sports announcer who is broadcasting from the grand opening and who must contend with the fact that his estranged wife Tina (Cathey Paine) is on premises and rubbing his nose in it by blatantly carrying on an affair with egotistical super star skier Bruce Scott (Rick Moses). Scott, in turn, is rubbing Tina's nose in it by blatantly sleeping with another woman, thus causing Tina to go ballistic and consider suicide. Meanwhile, David Shelby finds time to unwind by spending some quality time in a hot tub with with his naked secretary (thus allowing Roger Corman to slip in a bit of T&A). Although the story seems set up to have the disastrous avalanche occur during the opening night festivities, screenwriter Allen throws the audience a curve ball by avoiding that cliche and saving the action for the following afternoon when, amid a particularly vicious snow mobile race, a small plane piloted by one of Shelby's employees encounters bad weather and slams into a nearby mountain, thus triggering the avalanche. This is where the movie progresses beyond cliches and becomes unexpectedly enjoyable. All of the standard disaster movie shtick is present, as both lovable and loathsome characters meet predictable fates, but the film's limited production resources somehow work in its favor. We're well aware that we're watching a Corman production but somehow the inventiveness that is required to carry it all off is quite admirable. Certain plot points are introduced and inexplicably abandoned including an insinuation that Shelby has bribed local political officials to overlook his clear violation of environmental protection rules in order to build his resort. This was one of Rock Hudson's final films as an "above the title" leading man. He's grayer and a bit paunchier than we'd seen him during his heyday, but he still had star power to spare and made for a dashing leading man, whether its skinny dipping in the hot tub or personally leading rescue parties in acts of derring doo to extricate victims of the tragedy. The film's showpiece sequence is a climactic scene in which Shelby must rescue Caroline, who is dangling from wrecked bridge above a ravine. It's well-directed and genuinely suspenseful.
It' easy to pick apart a film like "Avalanche", as it squarely fits into the "guilty pleasure" category. However, the film does a lot with very little as opposed to other misfires in this genre that did very little with a lot (aka "The Swarm"). The Kino Lorber Blu-ray edition features the original trailer and a "making of" featurette in which Roger Corman extols the virtues of the film. He admits the effects were rather shoddy and recalls his outrage when he discovered the SFX company had added "red snow". Corman hit the roof and it was changed to a bluish substance that he admits still looks pretty phony. Robert Forster recalls that the "snow" was actually little pieces of plastic that were strewn by the hundreds of thousands over the scenic landscape. He remembers his dismay at the realization that none of these bits were biodegradable and many must still be contaminating the landscape of the Durango ski resort where the movie was filmed. Corman makes the claim that the film was actually a major financial success. He says his budget was only $1.7 million and that a TV sale for $2 million netted him an immediate $300,000 profit. The tale sounds a bit fanciful because it seems hard to believe that even in 1978 you could make a movie like this with three relatively big names for only $1.7 million. (Other sources give unsubstantiated estimates of the budget at around $6 million, which seems more plausible.) "Avalanche" is not near the top of the heap of disaster movies but it certainly doesn't rank at the bottom of the pack, either. The Kino Lorber release has an impressive transfer and the inclusion of those bonus extras make this title highly recommended for fans of this genre.
In 2009 a gelding trained and owned by a couple of
cowboys from New Mexico won the Kentucky Derby running at 50-1 odds. Mine That
Bird hadn’t won a single race in the United States before that and only
qualified to run the Derby because of the stakes he’d won in Canada. Not only
that, Mine That Bird was small and slightly “crooked up front,” as his trainer,
Chip Wooley (Skeet Ulrich) says when he first sees him. He’s skeptical at first
when he flies up to Canada to see him and advises his boss/friend Mark Allen
(Christian Kane) to pass on him. But when he sees Mine That Bird whizz around
the track he decides they need to buy him. Asking price, half a million. The
Canadians who owned him had paid only $9,500 for him.
“50-1,” (2014) directed and co-written by Jim Wilson, producer of 1990’s Oscar
Winner “Dances With Wolves”, tells the story of Mine That Bird and the two
cowboys who beat the odds and brought him to the winner’s circle. It’s your
typical underdog-overcoming-all-obstacles kind of story, except that the focus is
more on the four main human characters involved, rather than the horse. In
addition to Wooley and Allen, William Devane is present adding some gravitas to
the film, playing Doc Blach, owner of Buena Suite Equine, who puts up some of
the purchase money. Madelyn Deutch rounds out the principal cast playing
another horse trainer brought in later in the story. It’s the interrelationships
between the four characters that dominate the script with the colorful New
Mexican and dazzling Kentucky Derby settings as background.
That Bird loses the first three races that he runs in the U.S., and Wooley, a
rough and tumble former rodeo star, in frustration rides his motorcycle out
into the desert to let off some steam and has a serious accident. His injuries
limit his activities out on the track, and that’s when Allen brings in a new
trainer (Deutch) to help out. Wooley is none too pleased to discover his
assistant is “a girl!” This part of the story portrays the conflict between the
two, with Wooley acting more or less as a jerk, resenting her presence, constantly
barking criticisms at her. Frankly, the scenes between Ulrich and Deutch seem
tedious, with the “conflict” somewhat forced and contrived. The fault was more
in the dialog and situations concocted by Wilson and co-writer Faith Conroy
than with the actors who did the best they could with what they had.
rest of the movie relates how Mine That Bird qualified for the Derby and
preparations for the race, including the hiring of veteran jockey Calvin Borel,
who plays himself. There are some more complications
involving the forgetting of registration papers and some inane comedy bits
involving Borel that seem more appropriate for an old “I love Lucy” episode.
movies about horse racing usually give equal time to the horse and its owners.
The human drama is presented along with the story of the horse’s struggle to
win first place. Sea Biscuit and Secretariat live in our memories as great
heroes of the track, as will American Pharoah. In “50-1”, unfortunately, the
human angle overshadows the horse’s story. It’s almost as though screen writers
Wilson and Conroy forgot that Mine That Bird was the story’s main character.
The script is so focused on the two cowboys, the female assistant and their partner,
that Mine That Bird seems to disappear
until the big race at the end. There are very few scenes showing what a Derby
contender goes through to get ready for the big race. Because of his short
stature and “crooked” body, much could have been made of how horse and trainers
compensated for these shortcomings. But Wilson seemed more fixated on the
squabbling quartet of characters.
deficiencies of the script not withstanding, Wilson makes good use of the
actual locales where the real life story
took place. I’ve got a soft spot for movies set in New Mexico where Sam
Peckinpah did some of his best work. The state is nothing if not photogenic.
The trip through Roswell for example is fun, with the camera picking out the
UFO Museum and all the fast food restaurants serving Alien Burgers. Wilson also
does a good job of capturing the atmosphere of Louisville and Churchill Downs
on Derby Day and the excitement of the race.
All in all, considering
the film’s limited budget and a so-so script that sticks too much to what is
probably the literal truth of what happened rather than a larger- than -life story about a racing
legend, “50-1”is, in this age of overblown special effects, impossible car
chases, and adolescent toilet humor, a movie about real people in a real place,
where the only aliens and spaceships in sight adorn the tourist attractions in
Roswell. It’s a refreshing change of pace.
The Sony DVD contains a
“Making of” documentary, and a blooper reel. Sound and picture are good, but the
film would be even more impressive if it had been released on Blu-ray.
had no idea what to expect when I placed the DVD for “Scobie Malone” in my
player. Scobie, played by Jack Thompson, makes his way through traffic on a
sunny day in Sydney Australia as the movie credits begin. An Olivia Newton-John
sound-alike sings the Scobie Malone title song. Scobie breaks the third wall by
looking directly at the viewer as the title appears on-screen during his drive
as an invitation to join him on his adventure. Scobie gives the thumbs up to a
motorcycle cop during his drive. He winks, nods and flirts with pretty girls on
the way to his swinging bachelor pad.
lives at “Sunrise Patios” and the entry sign proclaims SINGLES ONLY with a
placard stating: NO VACANCIES. His bachelor pad is reached through the central
courtyard containing a large patio and pool. A pretty girl in a bikini is
changing the sign reading “Nude Sunbathing Prohibited” by crossing out “prohibited”
and writing “Encouraged!” She pauses in front of Scobie who reads the sign and
smiles as he catches her tossed bikini and she dives nude into the pool. Scobie
says hi to another sunbather and greets a pretty girl in his apartment with,
“Hello-Hello” as they strip and get into bed.
you had doubts that women can’t resist Scobie, the movie’s title song makes it clear
with lyrics like, “There’s a softness in his eyes. Try to catch him if you can.
If you catch him try to hold that man. Love him yes, but don’t expect to own
Scobie Malone. He’s an angel and a devil changing all the time.” The bedding is
interrupted with a flashback as we discover that Scobie is more than just a
swinging sex-craved bachelor, but also a serious homicide detective, Sergeant
Malone. He’s investigating the murder of a woman in the Sydney Opera House. The
credits continue with a new song, “Helga’s Web,” and we learn that Helga is the
name of the murdered woman at the center of this movie.
in 1975, “Scobie Malone” is billed as “a 70s ‘Ozploitation’ murder mystery with
a sexy wink to the crime genre.” The movie makes great use of location scenes
shot at the Sydney Opera House and uses a series of flashbacks to tell Helga’s
story which includes plenty of sex weaved into the mix of blackmail, mystery
and murder. Jack Thompson is terrific as Scobie Malone and it’s a pity that the
movie did not do better financially or receive a wider release outside of
Australia. Maybe it was all about timing because a few years later Australian
films and pop music were everywhere.
plays Scobie in his unique swaggering style. While not instantly recognizable outside
of Australia, he is certainly memorable from featured parts in “Breaker
Morant,” “The Man From Snowy River,” “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,”
“Flesh+Blood,” “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and “Star Wars Episode
II: Attack of the Clones” in addition to many Australian screen and TV roles.
Morris plays Helga Brand. Morris is far less known here in America, but I’m
familiar with her from the down-under comedy TV series “Mother and Son” which
aired in Australia from 1984-1994 and played here in America on public TV. She
also appeared in the 1979 Peter Weir TV movie, “The Plumber” (better known as “The
Cars that Ate Paris”). She’s also the co-producer, co-writer and co-director of
the 2006 animated hit feature “Happy Feet.”
plays model, actress and high class prostitute Helga in “Scobie Malone.” She’s
also the mistress of the Australian Minister for Culture and blackmails him
with explicit pictures of them together. Their lives become even more
complicated when she convinces her boyfriend to blackmail a local gangster and
drug runner. Helga’s murderer is revealed in a series of flashbacks as Scobie exposes
those trapped in Helga’s web.
spite of the juxtaposition between swinging 70s bachelor Scobie Malone and
serious police detective sergeant Malone, the movie is quite entertaining and
an enjoyable slice of 1970s cop thriller with plenty of sex and nudity on the
side. In one scene, Scobie asks for advice on the case from a swimsuit-clad
woman lying next to the pool who is also an expert on photography. She eagerly
follows Scobie to his apartment and after advising him on cameras and film
exposures, she strips and heads for the bedroom.
on the novel “Helga’s Web” by Jon Cleary, this is actually the second movie based
on Cleary’s Scobie Malone book series. Rod Taylor played Scobie in the 1968
movie “Nobody Runs Forever” which was released as “The High Commissioner” in
America. The book series includes 20 novels, but to date there are only two
Scobie Malone movies.
movie, released by Australian label Umbrellas entertainment, is presented in widescreen on a region free DVD release. The picture image
is sharp and the movie sounds good with a couple artifact sounds left over from
the digital transfer. There are no extras on this bare bones release and there
are no subtitles. Overall this is a very worthwhile movie for fans of cop thrillers,
70s “Ozploitation” and fans of Scobie Malone.
"SCOBIE MALONE" is available as a region free DVD. Click here to order from Amazon.
Few actors had the screen and stage presence of Yul Brynner. There never was an actor quite like him and there hasn't been since. Like most thespians, Brynner had his share of good movies as well as those that fell considerably short of their potential. Nevertheless, the man never gave a false performance. He came across as supremely self-confidant even when he must have suspected the material he was given proved to be far below his considerable talents. Much of his self-confidence seemed to stem from an inflated ego. Robert Vaughn once told me that when Brynner arrived on the set of "The Magnificent Seven" in Mexico, he was still firmly in the King of Siam mode that had seen him win an Oscar. Vaughn said he carried himself as though he were real life royalty at all times. You didn't chat with him casually. Rather, he would grant you an audience. As Brynner's stature as a top boxoffice attraction began to wane, he returned over and over again to his signature role in stage productions of "The King and I" and found his mojo and star power were still very much intact when it came to touring in front of live audiences. His exotic look and manner of speaking were invariably intoxicating. Given Brynner's enduring legacy as a Hollywood icon it's rather surprising to remember that he had very few major hits. "The King and I" in 1956 was his star-making vehicle and his role in "The Ten Commandments", released the same year, helped build on his success. However, with the exception of the surprise success of "The Magnificent Seven" in 1960, Brynner proved to be more of a reliable boxoffice attraction than a powerhouse draw in the way that John Wayne, Cary Grant and Burt Lancaster were regarded. For most of Brynner's screen career, he top-lined in major studio releases that were relatively modest in terms of production budgets. Since this was during an era in which a decent profit for a film made it a success, Brynner remained popular for many years. By the 1970s, however, his clout had diminished considerably. He would have only one memorable big screen success during the decade- his brilliant appearance as the murderous robot in "Westworld" (1974). He would concentrate primarily on stage work until his death in 1985.
"Invitation to a Gunfighter" is the kind of mid-range vehicle that defined most of Brynner's career in Hollywood. Released in 1964 by Stanley Kramer's production company, the film is a perfect showcase for Brynner in that it lacked any rival star power and afforded him a smorgasbord of scene-stealing opportunities. The story opens in the wake of the Confederate surrender that marked the end of the Civil War. Matt Weaver (George Segal), a veteran of the Confederate army, is making an arduous journey home to his Texas ranch on foot through the desert. When the exhausted man finally reaches the small town he calls home, he gets a rude welcome. His ranch is now occupied by another man who claims he bought the deed from the township. Matt soon learns that he is despised by the locals because he is the only man to have served in the southern army. He is notified by the town's political kingpin, Sam Brewster (Pat Hingle), that a technicality has been used to seize ownership of his ranch. He also advises him to move on out of town because he is no longer welcome there. Matt, however, is not about to be cheated. He confronts the new owner of his house and is forced to shoot him dead in self-defense. Brewster manipulates the facts and accuses Matt of being a murderer. Matt takes possession of his ranch and uses firepower to hold off the townspeople. He is surreptitiously visited by his former lover Ruth (Janice Rule), who admits that she could no longer bear waiting for him to return from the war. She reluctantly married Crane Adams (Clifford David), a local union war veteran who lost an arm in the conflict. Since then, Crane has become an alcoholic with a violent temper and his relationship to Ruth has devolved into a loveless marriage of convenience.
Unable to lure Matt from his besieged homestead, Brewster takes the step of announcing to the town council that he will hire a gunslinger to kill him. Coincidentally, a man with the exotic name of Jules Gaspard d'Estaing overhears the offer. He is just passing through on a stagecoach ride but is immediately intrigued. d'Estaing convinces Brewster that he is a master gunfighter and demonstrates his prowess with a pistol. Brewster hires him on the spot but d'Estaing is in no hurry to carry out the mission. Instead, he sees the townspeople for what they are: cowardly hypocrites and delights in humiliating Brewster in front of them. d'Estaing is an intimidating presence to the townspeople. They can't pinpoint his ethnicity and know nothing of his background. He dresses immaculately, speak fluent French, plays the harpsichord and chain smokes Churchill cigars (though I wonder what they called them in this era before Churchill was born.) Ever provocative to his hosts, he stirs the pot even further by moving into the house of Crane and Ruth Adams. Predictably, it isn't long before Ruth is entranced by this larger-than-life man of mystery who dresses like a dandy and is highly cultured- the very opposite of her own husband and Matt. Tensions rise as Crane correctly suspects a romance may be brewing. d'Estaing insists he intends to carry out his mission to kill Matt, despite Ruth's protests, but he later makes it clear to her that he intends to manipulate the situation so that Matt is spared and Brewster is dragged down in disgrace.
The film, directed with admirable if unremarkable competence by Richard Wilson, is a slow-moving, talky affair that leads to some intelligent discussions about race relations and the horrors of bigotry. (This was, after all, a production financed by Stanley Kramer, who never heeded the old adage, "Leave the messages to Western Union!"). What saves the movie from devolving into a completely pedantic affair is the charisma of Yul Brynner. It also helps that he is playing an interesting character with a mysterious background and the revelations he makes to Ruth about his life only make him even more intriguing. This is a "thinking man's" western that touches on social issues as well as the desperate plight of women in the old West, when their survival often saw them entering dreadful marriages simply for financial security and protection. Brynner gets fine support from Janice Rule and rising star George Segal and Pat Hingle plays the town's pompous boss with appropriate, sneering superficial charm. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray boasts an excellent transfer and includes the original theatrical trailer.
"Invitation to a Gunfighter" is by no means a classic but it does afford viewers to spend some time with Yul Brynner and that is always time well-spent.
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For most of its running time, "The Sleepwalker" is a very compelling and intriguing mystery/drama. It centers on a young couple, Kaia (Gitte Witte) and her boyfriend Andrew (Christopher Abbott), who are attempting to do major restorations on a rural house that Kaia has inherited from her father. At first glance, the two lead a normal life: they laugh, engage in minor disputes, make love and, in general, seem to be in a stable relationship. Their lives become unbalanced, however, with the unexpected arrival of Kaia's half-sister Christine (Stephanie Ellis), a wayward soul with a free spirit and a quirky, unsettling personality. She arrives in the dead of night and announces to Kaia that she is pregnant. Christine makes herself at home in the house she once shared with Kaiva. It becomes clear that both young women, who have different mothers, have very diverse opinions of their deceased father. Kaia is defensive of him while Christine denounces him as a bully and implies he might have engaged in abusing the girls on some level. With Christine's arrival, Kaia takes on the role of mother, as much as older sister, and tries to control Christine's unpredictable behavior and impulses. Christine is outspoken and feels free to critique those around her, regardless of how inappropriate her comments may be. Andrew is clearly disturbed by her presence and wants her out of the house as soon as possible. However, things become more complicated with the arrival of Ira (Brady Corbet), Christine's exasperated boyfriend and father of her forthcoming child. Ira is as much a parental figure to the immature Christine as he is her lover. He and Andrew take an immediate dislike to each other. Andrew, who has a blue collar background, resents the highly educated Ira for what he feels to be his condescending attitude toward him. The two men have an awkward relationship that is made even more strained by Ira and Christine's request to extend their stay at the house. The situation becomes even more tense as Kaiva tries to deal with Christine's psychological problems which include an eerie habit of sleepwalking and engaging unknowingly in shocking acts such as masturbating in front of others. Kaia is well aware of Christine's mental problems, but her obsession with protecting her seems to go beyond that of a concerned sister. In fact, the two seem almost uncomfortably close in the physical sense. They doff their clothes in front of each other and they snuggle together in the same bed in a manner that approaches a mutually erotic attraction. In terms of the group dynamics, the two young couples attempt to have fun through dancing and drinking, tensions continue to mount. The relationship between Andrew and Ira leads to a shocking act of violence that coincides with Christine's mysterious disappearance from the house. Kaia, Ira and Andrew search frantically for her and even notify the police, but it's all to no avail.
"The Sleepwalker" has many admirable aspects. It represents an impressive feature film directing debut for Mona Fastvold, who previously directed music videos. Fastvold has an eye for composing tension-filled situations and gets top performances from a supremely talented cast of largely unknown actors. The film also boasts some very impressive camerawork by Zack Galler and a haunting musical score by Sondre Loche and Kato Adland. However, it is Fastvold the screenwriter who runs into problems. Working with a script co-written by Brady Corbet, who plays Ira, the compelling story line waivers between a Gen X version of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (i.e couples reveal uncomfortable truths about themselves and each other during a tension-filled evening of socializing) and a potential slasher film, as we gird ourselves for what we believe will be some unpredictable act of violence caused by Christine, who is a menacing presence throughout the film. However, the movie's merits are undermined by a completely unsatisfactory ending that leaves most of the key questions unanswered and is so ambiguous as to be incomprehensible. (After watching the final scene several times, I actually consulted other reviews of the film to see if I was simply too stupid to "get it". I found that other reviewers had the same reaction I had.) This seems to be a trend in modern movie-making: leave the audience feeling frustrated and cheated. Ambiguity in the finale of a film can be an attribute. A perfect example revolves around the motivations of the seemingly crazed music teacher played by J.K. Simmons in "Whiplash". Everyone I know who has seen it likes debating whether his final actions in the film were an act of retribution or benevolence. However, there are other films, such as "The Sleepwalker", wherein the ambiguity looks like pretentious gibberish. The movie ends so abruptly that one might suspect that the financing dried up and they had fifteen minutes in which to wrap up the entire production. By taking this tact, the screenwriters negate many of the admirable aspects of the film, which are plentiful. "The Sleepwalker" isn't the only movie to feature a completely unsatisfying ending. "No Country for Old Men" rides along brilliantly until the final scene, which appears to have been the result of a wrong reel having been inserted into the film. Up to that point, it is a brilliant piece of work but its impact is severely negated by a boring and seemingly "out-of-left-field" ending that many viewers complained left them cheated. There are numerous other films that have been indulging in this trend, which is baffling. Why would a director want to leave an audience resentful and unsatisfied, feeling that they have just wasted their time watching an otherwise admirable movie?
"The Sleepwalker" serves as a showcase for some impressive up-and-coming talent. It's too bad they didn't close the deal and produce a movie that lived up to its potential. The film has been released on DVD by MPI Home Video. The edition features a creepy original trailer and some truncated interviews with the director and cast culled from some footage shot for the film's screening at Sundance. Perhaps appropriately, the interviews- like the film itself- end too abruptly to be satisfying.
The Warner archive has released the 1972 crime comedy "Every Little Crook and Nanny" as a burn-to-order DVD. The film boasts an impressive cast with Lynn Redgrave top-lined as Miss Poole, a comically stereotypical prim and proper young British woman of good manners who operates an etiquette school for boys and girls. When she is evicted so that the school can be utilized as a site for nefarious doings by crime kingpin Carmine Ganucci (Victor Mature), Miss Poole is facing destitution and the loss of her livelihood. When she goes to Ganucci to explain her plight, she is mistaken for one of many young women who are applying to be the crime lord's family nanny. He is instantly smitten by her good manners and eloquent speech and hires her on the spot. Miss Poole devises a plan to take advantage of the situation. She accepts the position and is soon regarded as an indispensable employee of Ganucci and his wife Stella (Margaret Blye). It seems Miss Poole is the only one who can control the couple's independent-minded, pre-pubescent son Lewis (Phillip Graves.). The kid is a real handful. He's sassy, sometimes arrogant and not prone to following orders, even though he seems to idolize his father for being a feared Mafia don. When Carmine and Stella leave for a romantic vacation in Italy, Miss Poole enacts an audacious plot to stage a phony kidnapping of Lewis in the hopes that she can extort just enough money from Carmine ($50,000) to reopen her etiquette school in another location. To carry out the scheme she enlists her former piano player at the school, Luther (Austin Pendleton) to pose as the kidnapper. The perpetually tense, nerdy young man bungles virtually every aspect of the caper but manages to get Lewis back to his apartment, where the young "victim" forms an instant bond with Luther's doting wife Ida (Mina Kolb), who not only views Lewis as the child she always wanted but uses his presence to chastise her husband for their sexless marriage. Meanwhile, Miss Poole reports the kidnapping to one of Carmine's low-level mob guys, Benny Napkins (Paul Sand). Benny is less-than-happy about being chosen to help Miss Poole deal with the kidnap situation, especially since he knows Carmine will have him murdered if Lewis is not returned safely. Miss Poole assures him that, if they can devise a ruse to get Carmine to send the $50,000 to them, they can retrieve Lewis before Carmine even realizes a kidnapping has occurred. To carry out this aspect of the plot, she goes to Carmine's lawyers (Dom DeLuise and John Astin), who immediately realize that their lives are on the line if they don't get Lewis back safely. An unexpected plot device is introduced wherein Carmine, oblivious to his son's fate, enters a deal with some minor criminals in Italy that requires payment of a sum of money that coincidentally equals the ransom demand. From this point, everyone gets confused (including the viewer) as the main characters scramble about, often working against each other's interests in order to save Lewis as well as their own lives. One of the more off-the-wall elements of the film is dual personality of Miss Poole, who generally acts like a dowdy Mary Poppins-like personality, but who is willing to drop her knickers in order to keep Benny Napkins in line.
The cleverest aspect of the film is it's witty title. Unfortunately, the screenplay, based on the novel by Evan Hunter, doesn't carry through on a promising scenario despite (or because of) the fact that it was developed by three writers. The director, veteran screenwriter Cy Howard, who had enjoyed a recent success with Lovers and Other Strangers, keeps the pace brisk and sometimes frantic, and gets spirited performances from a fine cast (Austin Pendleton is most amusing). However, the film never delivers the belly laughs the scenario seems to promise and the movie ends up being more likable than genuinely funny. The DVD includes an original trailer that amusingly plays up the return of Victor Mature as a leading man ("The ORIGINAL Victor Mature!"). Mature, who hit it big in the 1940s and 1950s, had only appeared sporadically on film in the decade prior to this movie. The film does afford him a rare opportunity to show off his skills with light comedy, and he delivers a very funny performance.
Star Vista/Time Life has released "The Best of the Ed Sullivan Show" as a six-DVD collection. The following is the official press release:
had a better eye for talent than Ed Sullivan. That simple fact was confirmed by
the broad range of incredible acts he brought into America's living rooms from
his Broadway stage between 1948 and 1971 on the greatest, longest-running prime
timevariety show in the history of television. This May, StarVista
Entertainment/Time Life will bring home audiences front row seats for THE
BEST OF THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW, a 6-disc collector's set never before
available at retail. Priced to add to every TV aficionado's collection at
$59.95srp, the special edition
release delivers the biggest names in music, comedy and variety captured in the
prime of their careers, as well as all the astonishing novelty acts selected by
Ed as his personal favorites, culled from over 1,000 hours of classic
Alan King famously said,"Ed Sullivan can't sing, can't dance and can't
tell a joke, but he does it better than anyone else." And while the
host of the eponymous show may not have been as talented as his guests, he had
an uncanny ability to spot top-notch talent and welcomed everyone to his
stage: politicians, poets, sports idols, Broadway stars, musicians -- be they
rock, classical, jazz, opera, gospel, pop, rhythm and blues -- as well as
comedians, novelty acts, children's entertainment legends, and acts that defied
label. Sullivan filled his weekly showcase with something for everyone,
and he was so successful at it that he became America's most powerful cultural
arbiter. Presiding over many "firsts" on American
television, including appearances by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny,
Hank Williams, Jr., Itzhak Perlman and Harry Belafonte, Sullivan is probably
best remembered for bringing us Elvis Presley's three historic
appearances in 1956/'57, and the Beatles' three earth-shattering
performances in 1964.
23-year run, The Ed Sullivan Show presented a remarkable array
of over 10,000 performers and celebrities, including the most spectacular
ensemble of stars in show business and THE BEST OF THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW
reflects that across 6 carefully curated DVDs: "Unforgettable Performances,"
"The All-Star Comedy Special," "World's Greatest Novelty
Acts," "Amazing Animal Acts," the "50th Anniversary
Special" and an exclusive bonus disc never before available at
retail. The collection includes:
·Rare appearances by Barbra Streisand, Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis, Jr.,
Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire and more
·Rock 'n' roll's greatest -- including Elvis Presley, The Beatles,
Buddy Holly, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Byrds, Janis Joplin and more
·Comedic talents Milton Berle, Carol Burnett, George Carlin, Rodney
Dangerfield, Phyllis Diller, Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, Joan
Rivers, the Smothers Brothers, Flip Wilson and more
·Classic Broadway performances from My Fair Lady, Man
of la Manchaand West Side Story
·The best of the daring acrobats, challenging balancing acts and
dexterous jugglers-selected by Ed as his personal favorites
·Zippy the roller-skating chimp, Heidi the Talking Dog, the
legendary Lipizzaner stallions and more than a dozen other amazing animal acts
·Sullivan in a rare comic sketch with comedy legends Lucille Ball
and Desi Arnaz
This historic DVD set contains over 2 hours of special bonus
features, including the only surviving on-camera interview with Ed and Sylvia
Sullivan, exclusive interviews with Milton Berle, Phyllis Diller, Shari Lewis,
Johnny Mathis, Michelle Phillips, Joan Rivers, Smokey Robinson, Señor Wences,
Flip Wilson and more.
of military movies will appreciate “Screaming Eagles” which purports to tell
the “Blazing Untold Story of the 101st Airborne’s HELL RAIDERS!” Unlike the
many years later fact-based exploits told in the “Band of Brothers” mini-series,
this 1956 movie offers a more personal and brief fictional account of Company D
in the days leading up to and after D-Day.
movie offers the usual war movie clichés that typify the war movie genre. We
meet the main characters in a roll call during a practice jump in the opening
credits. The men are identified as members of fifteenth paratroopers of Company
D, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army.
story begins in England, June 1944, and three replacement soldiers arrive to
join “Dog” Company days before the Normandy Invasion of France. The
replacements meet Sgt. Forrest, played by Pat Conway, and Lt. Pauling, played
by Jan Merlin. The Lieutenant welcomes the new guys with a pep talk while Sgt.
Forrest singles out Pvt. Mason as trouble and makes it clear that he has to be
a part of the team. Pvt. Mason, played by Tom Tryon, has a chip on his shoulder
and quickly establishes himself as a hot-head. Martin Milner plays Pvt.
Corliss, one of the other replacements and Mason’s buddy.
Mason receives a “Dear John” letter and knocks over the other guy’s equipment
after getting drunk. On the eve of the D-Day invasion, the men reach out to Sgt.
Forrest who talks with Lt. Pauling. Forrest wants Mason out, but the benevolent
platoon commander gives Mason a second chance after talking with the men of “Dog”
Company. Mason screws up during a practice jump and the mistrust lingers
throughout the rest of the movie.
landing in France, the men discover they have missed their drop zone and their objective
by several miles. They hike through German occupied France and make their way
to the bridge which they have to take and hold in order to prevent German
advances to the Normandy landings at Utah and Omaha beaches. The men are
ordered to hold their fire so they don’t attract unwanted German attention. A
German soldier spots Lt. Pauling and Mason kills him with his knife as the
German gets off a shot which starts a fire-fight. Lt. Pauling is blinded in the
aftermath of the firefight by a wounded German soldier and Mason becomes Pauling’s
take a German occupied farmhouse and befriend Marianne, a French woman played
by Jacqueline Beer. They capture a German radio operator, but none of the men
speak German. Marianne speaks German, but does not speak English. Conveniently,
the blinded Lt. Pauling speaks French and they begin a series of misinformation
communications via radio to redirect the Germans away from the bridge. The men
of “Dog” Company make their way through a village and several fire-fights on
their way to the bridge with the aid of Marianne.
was an early movie in the careers of Martin Milner and Tom Tryon. Tryon may be best remembered from such movies as “I Married a Monster
From Outer Space,” “The Story of Ruth,” “The Longest Day,” “Moon Pilot,” “The
Cardinal,” “In Hams Way” “The Glory Guys” and many TV roles. He also had a
prominent role in the uncompleted Marilyn Monroe movie, “Something’s Got To
Give.” He also became a bestselling author.
is probably best remembered as the star of two iconic TV series during the 60s
and 70s. He starred in “Route 66” from 1960-64 and played Officer Pete Malloy
during the seven season run of “Adam-12” from 1968-75. He also featured in the
movies “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” “Halls of Montezuma,” “Operation Pacific,”
“Destination Gobi,” “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” “Sweet Smell of Success,”
“Valley of the Dolls” and appeared in just about every TV series during the 50s
and 60s including “Twilight Zone” and a return as Captain Pete Malloy in the
brief 1989-91 series “The New Adam-12.”
Beer was Miss France in 1954 and married to adventurer/director/ writer Thor Heyerdahl.
She had small roles in several prominent Hollywood movies including “The
Buccaneer” (1958), “Pillow Talk,” “The Prize” and “Made in Paris” as well as appearances
in several TV series.
movie also features Alvy Moore, who is probably best
remembered by fans of “Green Acres” as Hank Kimball, Joe di Reda, Mark Damon,, Paul
Burke, Robert Blake and Ralph Votrian.
the use of American surplus vehicles painted up as German vehicles and post-
WWII aircraft used as stand-ins for planes of the era may be distracting to
nitpickers like myself, most viewers will likely not notice. Overall, there’s a
nice attention to detail and good use of archive combat footage. The German’s
speak German and the German radio
operator, played by Werner Klingler, is also credited as the technical advisor
for the German military.
was directed by long-time Hollywood contract director Charles F. Haas and was
released by Allied Artists in May 1956. The black and white widescreen image
looks terrific and the movie sounds great, landing at a swift 81 minutes
running time. There are no extras on this bare-bones burn-to-order DVD via the
Warner Archive Collection but this is a welcome edition for war movie fans.
One of the most rewarding byproducts of reviewing movies for a living is that you will often encounter some prominent gem that somehow managed to escape your attention previously. In certain cases, it's arguable that a film might well be more appreciated many years later than it was during its initial release. Such a case pertains to the 1965 crime drama Once a Thief. Directed by the under-rated Ralph Nelson, the film successfully invokes the mood and atmosphere of the classic black-and-white film noir crime thrillers of the 1940s and 1950s. Although this movie was widely credited as being Alain Delon's first starring role in an English language production, he was among the all-star cast seen the previous year in the big budget Hollywood production of The Yellow Rolls Royce. It is accurate to say, however, that Once a Thief afforded him his first opportunity to be the male lead in a major American film. The film was also significant in that it provided Ann-Margret with her first opportunity to show her skills as a dramatic actress. Her meteoric rise to fame had resulted from her roles in the musicals State Fair, Bye Bye Birdie and, most recently, opposite Elvis Presley in the smash hit Viva Las Vegas. In 1964, she made her dramatic film debut in Kitten with a Whip playing a deceitful "bad girl" in a film so bad it ultimately ended up being "honored" as a segment on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Another dramatic role the same year in The Pleasure Seekers was similarly unimpressive. However, 1965 proved to be her breakout year in terms of earning critical respect with back-to-back impressive performances in Bus Riley's Back in Town, Once a Thief and The Cincinnati Kid. Over the course of a few years, Ann-Margret would prove she was much more than just a talented singer and dancer. The decision to team her with Alain Delon proved to be an inspired one, as they practically smolder on screen together.
The film opens in a hip jazz club. Over the credits, we watch an astounding drum solo by Russell Lee, the likes of which had not been seen on screen until last year's Whiplash. The viewer is immediately impressed by the camerawork of veteran cinematographer Robert Burks, who had shot numerous Hitchcock classics in the 1950s and, most recently, The Birds and Marnie. The crowd at the jazz club indicates before we even see an exterior shot that we are in a very progressive place. At a time when the American South was still deeply embroiled in attempting to practice segregation, we see that the customers of the jazz club consist of both black and white patrons, all grooving almost hypnotically to an African American musician, whose drum solo almost transcends what seems to be humanly possible. We soon learn that we are in San Francisco, the American city that would most prominently embrace the on-going cultural revolution. The scene quickly shifts to a couple of thugs who rob a liquor store and needlessly murder its owner, a middle-aged Chinese woman, in front of her horrified husband. The scene switches again, as we are introduced to Eddie Pedlak (Delon), a handsome young immigrant from Trieste who drives the same classic sports car and wears the same sheepskin coat that were identified with the gunman in the liquor store robbery. Still, if Eddie is hiding his participation in such a heinous crime, he is able to put on the ultimate poker face. He eagerly greets his gorgeous wife Kristine (Ann-Margret) and their young daughter Kathy (Tammy Locke). Although they live in a modest apartment in a poor neighborhood, Eddie is eager to show his wife and daughter a major investment he has just made. Driving them to the bay area, Eddie proudly brings them aboard a small private boat that he says he has just managed to put a down payment on. When Kristine asks how he could afford to do so, he says he had been secretly squirreling away money from his modest paycheck as a truck driver. Yet, the viewer is suspicious. We have just seen a man who seemed to match Eddie's description rob a liquor store. Could the funds have come from those ill-gotten gains? Veteran detective Mike Vido (Van Heflin) certainly thinks so. He is convinced that Eddie is the man who once shot him in the stomach some years earlier when he attempted to thwart a robbery that was in progress. Since then he has haunted Eddie and refused to believe that he has gone straight. Vido is convinced Eddie was the man behind the liquor store robbery and murder, though his boss, Lt. Kebner (Jeff Corey), chides Vido for allowing his personal obsession with nailing Eddie for a crime to cloud his better judgment.
For much of the screenplay by Zekial Marko, who adapted the script from his own novel, the story plays like a modern version of Hugo's Les Miserables, with Eddie as the Jean Valjean character- a once minor criminal now trying to go straight- and Vido as the relentless detective Javert, who is determined to prove he is still engaged in illegal activities. Marko's script rings with a feel for street life and has an authenticity not found in most crime movies of this era. (Marko also turns in a sterling supporting performance as a career criminal who is acquainted with Eddie.) Vido's constant harassment of Eddie costs the young man several jobs, including his latest occupation as a trucker. In the film's most poignant sequence, he applies for unemployment insurance and must deal with an emotionless bureaucrat who tries to deny him benefits based on his criminal past. It's a moving and very emotional sequence and it's superbly played by Delon, who demonstrates that Eddie is a man at the end of his rope. The film takes an unexpected turn when he is acquitted of the liquor store robbery/murder, but his career is in ruins and he is distraught at his inability to provide for his family. Against his wishes, Kristine takes a night job as a waitress. This being 1965, Eddie is shamed by the fact that his wife has become the family breadwinner. He barely tolerates the situation until he learns that Kristine is actually employed by a nightclub and is being forced to pose as a single woman and wear a revealing uniform. He goes into a rage and forces her to quit. Their once happy marriage is now a shambles. At this point, fate intervenes with the unwelcome appearance of Eddie's older brother Walter (Jack Palance) who tries to enlist him in a major robbery of platinum from an industrial complex where Eddie recently worked. Walter estimates the haul to be worth over a million dollars but he and his sleazy henchmen need Eddie's knowledge of the place. At first Eddie heeds Kristine's pleas not to get sucked back into the world of crime, but with financial pressure building and no prospects for a legitimate job, he reluctantly consents to help plan the caper. The latter part of the film depicts the enactment of the plan, which is imaginatively staged and is filled with suspense. As these things generally turn out in crime movies, the robbery is a success, but double crosses between Walter and his henchmen prove to have disastrous consequences. Eddie finds himself marked for death and must enlist the most unlikely of allies- Detective Vido- when he learns that his daughter has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom until he turns the platinum over to his former partners.
Once a Thief offers a treasure trove of superior performances. In addition to Delon's impressive work, Ann-Margret excels as the young wife and mother who simply wants a "normal" life. We see her transformed from a happy-go-lucky woman who is both a doting mom and vibrant woman with a healthy love life (she is married to Alain Delon, after all) to a nerve-wracked emotional basket case who must cope with her husband being marked for death even as he frantically promises to get back their kidnapped daughter. Van Heflin brings understated dignity to the role of the world-weary detective and Palance does what Palance did best: play a charismatic heavy. The real scene-stealer is character actor John Davis Chandler as Walter's chief henchman, James Sargatanas. He is creepy to look at, with a slim build, premature white hair and omnipresent sun glasses. He resembles the guys from the hit team played by Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager in Don Siegel's 1964 version of The Killers - - only he's somehow even more menacing than those psychopaths were. This should have been a star-making role for Chandler, but it was not to be. Another familiar face among the crooks is Tony Musante, who would go on to appear in many memorable crime flicks. A special word about young Tammy Locke, who plays Kathy. She was only six years old when she appeared in the film and gave an amazingly accomplished performance. Director Nelson always possessed a skill at emphasizing the human aspects of his films and this one is no exception. You care deeply about the protagonists and their individual dilemmas. The film ratchets up the suspense in the final moments and Nelson manages to avoid a cliched happy ending.
The Warner Archive DVD boasts an excellent transfer and includes the original trailer and a very interesting production short in which we see composer Lalo Schifrin discussing with Ralph Nelson his theories for scoring the film. During an era in which film composers were largely taken for granted, it's nice to see the spotlight on Schifrin, who has been responsible for some of the most memorable TV and film scores of all time. Put this title on your "must-have" list.
The reversible sleeve features the original, magnificent poster art by Frank McCarthy.
NOTE: THIS REVIEW PERTAINS TO THE UK RELEASE
BY DARREN ALLISON
The Train 1964 Directed by John
Frankenheimer, Starring Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield and Jeanne Moreau. Arrow
Blu-Ray release date: 11th May 2015
Frankenheimer ‘s The Train is a realistic and engrossing account of the sabotaging
of a Nazi endeavour to smuggle a trainload of art treasures out of France
toward the end of World War II. Burt Lancaster gives a fine performance as Labiche,
leader of the French railway-workers' resistance – and the man chosen to lead
the sabotage and protect “the national heritage and pride of France!” Paul
Scofield's Nazi, Von Waldheim, is also excellent as the colonel who rants and
rages, almost to the point of obsession, in order to see that nothing stops the
train from completing its criminal mission.
dominates this movie, his strength; agility and sheer gutsy determination
provide a genuine sense of realism. Observing Lancaster (in his sheer physical
capacity) is enough to take one’s breath away. Watch those long (often single)
takes of him sliding down railway gantry ladders, and running along the
trackside before jumping on to the moving train – and you would be hard pushed
to feel anything but respect and admiration for his work. The Train is full of
astonishing action, collisions, and stunning set pieces – take for example the
air strike on the rail yard, an amazing and meticulously executed scene
containing some of the most realistic explosions and carnage.
the thrills and spills, Lancaster also finds time for a little romance with Christine,
a tight-lipped, angry widow who runs a railroad-side hotel and played rather
nicely by Jeanne Moreau. But don’t let
this put you off for a minute, the romance is never given time to dominate or
overshadow the film’s narrative. The Train truly remains one of the great films
of the sixties. Frankenheimer’s camera often gives the film a documentary style
and the stark black and white photography does nothing but enhance the bleak
atmosphere of the times. Maurice Jarre’s
music score also adds extra depth to the movie without ever getting in the way
or overshadowing those realistically essential railroad sounds.
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the film is quite superb. There
are good, deep blacks where required, often giving the film an almost noir
quality. It is also virtually free of any dust, dirt or speckles, and leaves
the previous MGM DVD looking very poor in comparison. The audio comprises of a
nice clear uncompressed 1.0 mono PCM track. Additional audio delights come in
the way of a commentary by director John Frankenheimer which is both engaging
and informative. In addition to that, Arrow has also gifted us with an optional
isolated score by composer Maurice Jarre. So there is plenty to be had in terms
of audio supplements.
extras include: Burt Lancaster in the Sixties – a newly-filmed interview with
Lancaster’s biographer Kate Buford, tracing the actor’s career throughout the
decade. For me, the real winning bonus
material is in the Blu-Ray’s archival footage. This includes a French
television news report on the making of The Train, containing interviews with
the locals of Acquigny. There is also an
original interview with Michel Simon who was so memorable in the role of the
stubborn railroad resistance fighter Papa Boule. Plus, there is some wonderful
footage of The Train’s gala screening in Marseilles. The original theatrical
trailer is also included and rounds off a tidy and generous collection of extra
consists of a sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by
Vladimir Zimakov. I have to say, I’m not a fan of the new artwork which is a
little too abstract for my taste, especially in comparison to the beautiful
original poster art, which is thankfully contained on the reverse. I do admire
Arrow’s policy of a reversible sleeve, and can’t knock anyone who at least
provides a choice...
is also a very good collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Cinema
Retro contributor Sheldon Hall and is illustrated throughout with original
stills and artwork.
genuine fans of great sixties movies, it’s an essential piece of art for your
“The series ends on a perfect note.” — The
New York Times
“Absorbing, impeccably produced…(with) the quietly brilliant
Christopher Foyle,” — AP
“One of the
best mysteries you’ll ever see on the telly” — San
“Terrifically entertaining”— NPR Fresh
Air from WHYY
“Michael Kitchen is
superb.” — The Seattle Times
“Like a gift from the gods.” —The New York Times
“A triumph from start to finish” —The Wall Street Journal
FOYLE’S WAR, SET 8 (The Final Season)
Debuts on DVD and Blu-ray from Acorn on April 14,
Michael Kitchen stars in the final
mysteries from the universally acclaimed British series;
Set features more than two hours of bonus
It's no secret that we at Cinema Retro consider "Foyle's War" to be among the very best television shows ever produced in England (or anywhere else, for that matter.) Here is the official Acorn Media press release regarding the final season on DVD and Blu-ray.
MD — The final season of Foyle’s War, Set 8 debuts on DVD and
Blu-ray on April 14, 2015 from
Acorn, an RLJ
Entertainment, Inc.(NASDAQ: RLJE) brand. The acclaimed detective
series finishes its long run with three new mysteries set in the
uncertain days at the beginning of the Cold War. In 1946 London, former DCS
Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen, Out
of Africa) now employs his unerring investigative skills on behalf of MI5,
assisted by his ever-faithful driver, Sam Wainwright (Honeysuckle Weeks). The season premiered in the UK in January 2015,
in the US on Acorn.TV, the premier
British TV streaming service in North America, in February 2015, and will air
on public television stations beginning in May 2015. Set 8 guest stars two-time Emmy® and Golden Globe®
nominee John Mahoney (Frasier)
and co-stars Daniel Weyman (Great
Expectations), Ellie Haddington (Life
Begins), Tim McMullan (The
Woman in Black), Jeremy Swift (Oliver
Twist), and Rupert Vansittart (Holy
Flying Circus). The DVD 3-disc set and Blu-ray 2-disc set feature three
feature-length episodes plus over two hours of bonus features including a day
in the life of Foyle’s War and an
interview with John Mahoney. RLJ Entertainment purchased all rights to Foyle’s War in 2010 and has co-produced the last two seasons. The
entire series is also available to stream any time on Acorn TV at www.Acorn.TV.
High Castle—A translator for the Nuremberg trials is killed,
leading Foyle into the world of international oil politics and corrupt Nazi
Trespass—With tensions running high ahead of a high-level
Palestinian conference, Foyle investigates a plot involving murder, espionage,
and a terrorist threat.
Elise—After an assassination attempt on Hilda Pierce,
Foyle examines her Special Operations Executive activities during the war and
rumors of a traitor.
Over two hours of bonus features!
the truth behind the fiction for each episode (52 min.), a day in the life of Foyle’s War (26 min.), an interview with
John Mahoney (21 min.), back in time with Foyle’s
War (27 min.), and a photo gallery.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON AND TO VIEW A CLIP.
By the early 1970s, America's cities seemed to be on a permanent downward spiral. The middle class was fleeing the inner cities in droves for the safety of suburbia while the major urban centers deteriorated rapidly into an abyss of crime. This trend, of course, was realistically reflected in such films as "Taxi Driver", "Mean Streets", "Death Wish" and "The French Connection". The latter became the Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1971 and helped set in motion the "dirty cop" movies that characterized this era of filmmaking. Gene Hackman's performance as New York City detective "Popeye" Doyle seemed to inspire any number of other memorable celluloid cop heroes who didn't waste time worrying about constitutional rights. Instead, they took matters into their own hands in order to bring criminals to justice- by whatever means necessary. Clint Eastwood had a smash hit employing such behavior on screen as Dirty Harry and before long, seemingly every major male star was lining up to play cops who routinely gave the middle finger to police brass as they set out to use vigilante methods to ensure the successful resolution of cases. Producer Philip D'Antoni had struck pay dirt with one of the first maverick cop movies, "Bullitt", in 1968. The title character, memorably played by Steve McQueen, routinely ignored orders from his superiors but wasn't exactly as "dirty cop", as he pretty much respected suspect's rights in the course of his assignment. However, D'Antoni's second crime classic from the era, "The French Connection" was the epitome of celebrating the notion that the end justifies the means when it came to law enforcement. The film was such a major hit that D'Antoni decided to do a follow-up titled "The Seven-Ups".
Released in 1973, "The Seven-Ups" shameless borrows on key elements of both "Bullitt" and "The French Connection", but at least does so with a considerable amount of style. D'Antonio hired "French Connection" co-star Roy Scheider and justifiably cast him in his first lead role. D'Antonio then came up with a winning recipe for another gritty urban crime film: cast numerous actors from both of his previous films in supporting roles then add a spectacular car chase as in "Bullitt", sprinkle in a driving, hard-hitting score by "French Connection" composer Don Ellis, then enlist real-life "French Connection" detective Sonny Grosso as a writer and consultant and - presto!- you have another winner. To make sure the project didn't stray too far from the formula, D'Antonio directed the movie himself. Ironically, despite obviously plagiarizing his own films, D'Antonio did emerge with a winner. Although "The Seven-Ups" is certainly not of the same caliber of "Bullitt" and "The French Connection", it does stand as a highly polished, engrossing action film. More importantly, it proved that Scheider was a credible leading man, a fact that undoubtedly lead to him being cast as the star of "Jaws" a couple of years later.
Scheider, who gives a yeoman performance, plays New York city detective referred to only as "Buddy". He heads up a top-secret four man unit called "The Seven-Ups", so-known because all of the suspects they arrest end up doing at least seven years or more in jail. The squad employs blatantly illegal methods to obtain whatever information they deem necessary from the low-lives that populate the crime-ridden areas of the city. It turns out that prominent, affluent loan sharks are being systematically kidnapped by two rogue cops and being held for ransom. The Seven-Ups are assigned to the case and Buddy relies on information from Vito (Tony Lo Bianco), a childhood friend with a shady past who leaks relevant scuttlebutt to him about the case. In the course of the investigation, however, the kidnappers prove more resolute than Buddy had imagined. Before long, one of his team has been murdered and Buddy finds himself employing increasingly desperate methods to track down the corrupt cops. The film is packed with realistic street-wise dialogue and convincing performances including real life stunt man Bill Hickman, who performed much of the driving in the "Bullitt" car chase; cult actor Joe Spinell, Ken Kercheval and Richard Lynch. Director of Photography Urs Furrer convincingly captures the gritty feel of New York's streets during this era, though much of the film was shot in the outer boroughs. The highlight of the movie (fully exploited in the trailers) is the spectacular car chase. It's a truly thrilling sequence that rivals the chases in "Bullitt" and "The French Connection", though die-hard "Bullitt" fans will recognize certain scenes from that film's chase carried over virtually intact into "The Seven-Ups".
There is a sobering aspect to watching dirty cop movies like this today. With crime rates in America having plunged dramatically over the decades and most of the cities having undergone an amazing Renaissance, the tactics employed by our "heroes" in these films suddenly look especially distasteful today- especially in light of recent high profile cases in which some "bad apple" cops have clearly violated civil rights. The trailers for "The Seven-Ups" rather sickeningly play up the fact that "you can't tell the cops from the killers", as though this was an attribute for a police officer. These "heroes" dispense with due process, break and enter suspects' homes and in one case threaten a man's innocent wife with with disfigurement. It's hard to imagine anyone who has evolved beyond Neanderthal status in these more enlightened times cheering such behavior. Nevertheless, one must view such films as products of their time- and as such, "The Seven-Ups" reminds of a less-than-glorious period in American history, one that has thankfully been replaced by better times.
The Fox DVD is poorly designed. One side of the disc contains the film in widescreen format with two bonus extras: the teaser trailer and full length trailer. The DVD sleeve indicates there is also an original production featurette but you'd have to be Sherlock Holmes to discover that you have to turn the disc over to the apparently blank "B" side (there is no writing or graphics) and deduce that if you insert this into your DVD player, you will get access to the film in cropped, full screen format along with the production featurette. The featurette, though extremely grainy, is quite interesting. It details the considerable logistics of filming the movie's signature car chase sequence, as planned by D'Antoni and Bill Hickman. It's nice that Fox included this but it's puzzling as to why they made it a challenge to locate it.
"The Rape of Europa" is the acclaimed 2006 documentary that chronicles one of the lesser-known aspects of Adolf Hitler's corrupt regime: the widespread looting and destruction of priceless art masterpieces in the territories his conquered. The subject matter had been dealt with has far back as 1965 in John Frankenheimer's "The Train", and more recently in George Clooney's "The Monuments Men". The crimes against the cultural of a nation may pale in comparison to the human toll extracted by the Nazis on their victims. Nevertheless, the loss of historical treasures was a true tragedy tied to the rise of National Socialism. The documentary reiterates the fact that Hitler had been an aspiring artist who traveled to Vienna with the hope of being accepted into the art institute there. Had that occurred, the world would have been a very different place in the years to come. However, while he possessed a degree of artistic talent, he was deemed unsuitable for acceptance by the academy. Hitler's wounded pride, along with his pre-existing shame at Germany's compliance with the oppressive Treaty of Versailles, had helped instigate his rise as as an extreme right wing political leader. Upon taking over the National Socialist Party and ultimately rising to the rank of Chancellor, Hitler managed to turn the position into that of an all-powerful dictator. His first priority was to rearm Germany in violation of the Treaty. The Allies protested but took no action. Simultaneously, he instituted increasingly oppressive sanctions against those who he deemed to be his enemies: Jews, homosexuals, racial minorities and intellectuals who opposed his policies. Using the Nuremberg Laws to deprive Jews of all civil rights, Hitler and his paladins went to work appropriating valuable artworks, sculptures and even furniture from the now-dispossessed and largely doomed Jewish population. He also waged a culture war against what he considered to be the evil influence on German culture of the modern art movement, which he felt was degrading to Aryan culture. Under Hitler's direct orders, museums were emptied of art masterpieces that were either destroyed or sold off. Those works that Hitler approved of were appropriated for the Fuhrer and his top brass, each of whom took great pride in building their massive collection of stolen paintings. (Hitler's second-in-command, Herman Goering was the worst offender.) When Hitler annexed most of Western Europe, the policies were carried out in those territories.
"The Rape of Europa" traces the impact of the Nazi art thefts and their impact on the indigenous populations of the affected nations. Although France had the most modern army in Europe and was confident it could stop a possible German invasion, the staff at the Louvre had enough foresight to move most of the masterpieces into hidden locations, a massive project that was carried out just in time: the nation would fall to Germany within six weeks. The film shows the extravagant methods the Nazis used to locate these hidden treasures. In some cases they succeeded, but thanks to the efforts of many dedicated people, other artwork survived without being stolen and many priceless artifacts were recovered after the war. When Hitler launched his ultimately ill-fated invasion of his former ally, the Soviet Union in 1941, the staff at the massive Hermitage museum managed to remove all the valuable art masterpieces to hidden locations in Siberia. Germany never took possession of the museum, having been finally sent into retreat after a mutually grueling campaign that saw enormous losses on both sides. With the invasion of Italy in 1943, the Americans and their allies were sensitive about destroying the local culture in their quest to rid the nation of German troops. General Eisenhower issued orders to avoid bombing key cultural landmarks. In some cases it worked: American bombers carried out the destruction of rail lines in Florence without destroying nearby architectural landmarks. However, in the bloody battle for the Monte Cassino, the ancient abbey was destroyed in a bombing raid in the mistaken belief that it was occupied by German troops. All of these aspects of the war are covered in this fascinating documentary through rare original film footage and interviews with survivors of the period. Their tales are alternately heartbreaking and inspiring, as they relate the Herculean tasks undertaken by patriots to preserve their nation's heritage in the hope that one freedom would once again prevail. The film also covers the challenge of tracking down missing art masterpieces in the aftermath of the war and attempts by families to reclaim certain pieces which ended up in museums.
"The Rape of Europa" is a spellbinding experience throughout. Highly recommended.
There are no bonus items on the DVD from Menemesha Films aside from the original trailer, which is a pity because a movie of this significance cries out to have a commentary track with scholars furthering our knowledge of this important period in history.
This month, Shout!Factory TV, the free streaming site, presents a number of irresistible offerings including the first season of "Danger Man" (aka "Secret Agent") starring Patrick McGoohan and the classic British sci-fi show "Fireball XL5". Also: John Cassavettes feature film favorites and "Quadrophenia". Click here to visit the site.
When it was announced that producer Elliott Kastner had succeeded in signing both Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson for the 1976 Western, The Missouri Breaks, the project was viewed as a "can't miss" at the international box-office. This would be Brando's first film since his back-to-back triumphs in The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris and Nicholson had just won the Best Actor Oscar for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The two Hollywood icons were actually neighbors who lived next door to each other, but they had never previously teamed for a film project. Kastner, whose prowess as a street-wise guy who used unorthodox methods to get films off the ground, had used a clever tactic to sign up both superstars: he told each man that the other had already committed to the project, when, in fact, neither had. With Brando and Nicholson aboard, Kastner hired a respected director, Arthur Penn, who had worked with Brando ten years before on The Chase. He then chose an acclaimed novelist, Thomas McGuane, who had recently made his directorial debut with 92 in the Shade, to write the screenplay. What emerged from all these negotiations was a seemingly "can't miss" boxoffice blockbuster in the making. Alas, it was not to be. Upon its release, critics emphasized the "Miss" aspect of the The Missouri Breaks, with most reviewers citing the opinion that the film was a long, slow slog interrupted up a hammy, over-the-top comic performance from Brando, who Penn apparently exercised little control over when it came to the actor's penchant for improvisation.
The film opens with cattle baron David Braxton (John McLiam) "hosting" a lynching for a rapt audience of his ranch hands. Seems the intended victim has rustled some of his cattle and McLiam is determined to put an end to the thievery, which has reduced his overall business income by 7% per year- a statistic he never tires of griping about. McLiam's hardball tactics against the rustlers don't sit well with his otherwise adoring daughter Jane (Kathleen Lloyd), an independent-thinking young woman who has acted as her father's most trusted companion since her mother left him for another man years ago. The victim of the lynching was a member of a rustling gang headed by Tom Logan (Jack Nicholson), who befriends Braxton on the pretense that he wants to purchase a plot of land on his property to establish a small farm. In reality, he wants to utilize the land to temporarily house stolen horses which his gang has gone to Canada to obtain in a daring operation against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's stables. Meanwhile, Jane- who lives a life of relative isolation on her father's estate-is immediately smitten by the charismatic Tom Logan and when she insists that he become her first lover, he finds it impossible to resist. Thus, Logan is now in a romantic relationship with a girl who is the daughter of a man he is deceiving and stealing from. David Braxton goes all-out in his obsession with thwarting the rustlers. He hires Lee Clayton, a renowned "regulator", which is a polite term for bounty hunter. Clayton is an eccentric man with a bizarre personality who speaks in a heavy Irish brogue, but also at times utilizes other accents. He is at times charming and amusing and at other times fiery-tempered and unpredictable. Upon being introduced to Tom Logan by Braxton, Clayton immediately suspects he is not a farmer, but a rustler. The two men play a cat-and-mouse game, each one employing double-entendres in their conversations. When Logan's men return from Canada empty-handed after being thwarted by the Mounties, Clayton becomes an omnipresent figure, observing their every move from afar through binoculars. One by one, he systematically murders the members of the rustling gang, always preceding their horrendous deaths by chatting with the doomed men in disarmingly friendly tones. Clayton becomes so frightening a figure that even Braxton becomes intimidated by him and attempts to fire him, but Clayton says the money is irrelevant and that once he commits to a job, he sees it through. The stage is set for a mano-a-mano confrontation between Logan and Clayton that both men realize will see only one emerge alive.
Brando and Nicholson on the set in Montana.
It's easy to see why The Missouri Breaks didn't catch on with audiences. Much of the film moves at a glacial pace, but McGuane's script is intelligent and the dialogue often witty. Brando's outrageous antics easily overshadow anyone else in the film, even though his appearances are fleeting and the lion's share of the screen time is dominated by Nicholson. Brando seems to be having a field day and there seems to be no limit to his improvisations. (At one point he is dressed as a Chinese peasant and in another he is inexplicably attired as a woman, complete with apron and bonnet.) He also has a penchant for making some uncomfortably romantic overtures to his horse. Thus, the character of Clayton proves to be a distraction from the otherwise somber, realistic tone of the film. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Brando's appearances are both amusing and somewhat mesmerizing, even if out of place. The movie boasts a first rate supporting cast that includes Harry Dean Stanton, Frederic Forrest and a young and slim Randy Quaid. Kathleen Lloyd holds her own against the considerable star power of Brando and Nicholson, which could not have been an easy feat. Alas, stardom was not to follow for her, though she still occasionally appears as a guest star in popular TV series. Where the movie disappoints the most is in its climax. The audience has been led to expect a memorable confrontation between Logan and Clayton, but when one of them gets the upper hand on the other, it's done very abruptly and rather unimaginatively, leaving the viewer feeling cheated. The movie boasts a low-key but appropriately atmospheric score by John Williams and impressive cinematography by Michael Butler. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks sensational in the outdoor sequences but the dimly lit interiors have a degree of grain to them, which may have been intended by Butler. An original theatrical trailer has been included.
After The Missouri Breaks, Brando seemed uninspired and went on automatic pilot in terms of his film roles. He was paid a relative fortune for what amounted to extended cameos in Superman and Apocalypse Now, and while he was a significant physical presence in both films, no one made the case that he exerted himself dramatically. He would find occasional enthusiasm in certain roles (an Oscar-nominated turn in the little-seen A Dry White Season and a hilarious performance recreating his Don Corleone role for The Freshman), but his enthusiasm seemed to diminish in direct proportion to his increase in weight. Sadly, he would never totally recapture the mojo he once enjoyed as a screen icon. Yet, time has been kind to The Missouri Breaks. The film's literate script and direction are a reminder of an era in which such projects would be green-lit by major studios who appealed to the intellect of movie audiences. Today, the project would never have seen fruition no matter who starred in it.
When Paramount released the "White Christmas" Blu-ray Diamond Edition last fall, it sold out quickly. Happily, there are ample supplies back in stock at major retailers so, if you missed this essential last Christmas, you'll have plenty of time to get for the 2015 holidays.
Continue reading for a complete breakdown of the spectacular, 4-disc Blu-ray/DVD/ CD set.